Safety First: What Is a Safety Data Sheet and How Do You Read It?

Safety First: What Is a Safety Data Sheet and How Do You Read It?

Safety data sheets (SDS) are the cornerstone of workplace health and safety.

It’s also known as a material safety data sheet (MSDS) or product safety data sheet (PSDS). All these terms denote the same thing, a document describing occupational safety and health requirements.

It features information on the use of chemical products and substances, such as mixtures and compounds. SDS also alerts employees to dangers associated with hazardous materials.

Hence, it’s of paramount importance when handling any potentially dangerous products. There’s just one problem here. It’s difficult to figure out where to start or how to read such a technical paper.

Well, fret not because we have you covered. This guide will help you make a sense of all the vital information.

Safety Data Sheet 1:1

SDS is created by chemical product manufacturers.

They outline how each of their products may pose a threat to safety and health. As such, SDS isn’t intended for consumer use.

It must contain instructions regarding the safe use of chemicals and list potential hazards that stem from that use. These instructions refer to proper identification, storing, transportation, and use of products.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) obliges businesses to make SDS available to all employees, as well as local fire departments and state emergency planning officials.

Note that the format of the document is internationally standardized.

We call it Globally Standardized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). The US adopted it back in 2012 in place of MSDS framework.

GHS includes 16 different sections and it would be wise to read them all. Yet, they aren’t created equal.

We would recommend focusing on the following sections:

  • Section 1: Chemical Product and Supplier’s Identification
  • Section 2: Hazard Identification
  • Section 3: Composition/Information on Ingredients
  • Section 9: Physical and Chemical Properties

Material Identification

The first order of business is to go through Section 1, which identifies various materials and products.

Namely, it indicates general information on materials and their suppliers. Means of identification are product codes and names.

Furthermore, SDS is supposed to specify proper substance labeling, which involves hazard symbols. They serve as points of reference between SDS and labels.

Notice as well the American Chemical Society sets Chemical Abstracts Service Registry Numbers (CAS numbers). These unique indicators are assigned to each chemical product.

Beyond these elements, Section 1 can state emergency contact information and a recommended use of materials. Recommendations tend to closely correspond to the manufacturer’s instructions.

The main purpose is to enable any user to differentiate various materials.

Taking a Look at the Hazards Section

Once cataloging is sorted out, one has to tackle hazards (Section 2).

Here, SDS particularizes all the hazards related to materials from Section 1. Not only that but it explains how the use of materials that can turn out to be dangerous.

Expect to see the following segments:

  • Hazard Classification
  • Hazard Statements
  • Pictograms
  • Signal Word
  • Other Hazards
  • Precautionary Statements

Reading this section, users should get a much clearer idea of the types and nature of hazards. In other words, they have a quick reference point for understanding occupational dangers.

Pictogram, for instance, is a visual representation of hazards. Signal Word attaches a simple phrase to every hazard in order to communicate its severity. Hazard Statement describes the hazard in one sentence.

You get the point.

Examining Ingredient Information

Section 3 may seem less vital, but don’t gloss over it.

It clarifies the chemical structure of the materials employees come in contact with. They should be able to find:

  • Chemical name
  • CAS number
  • Concentration/concentration range

Reading this section lets you know what chemicals are integral to the Hazard Classification system. You also find out which procedures and protective equipment should be used to ward off hazards.

Some authors decide to add GHS classifications and pure chemicals to this section. It’s not uncommon to see other means of identification (like EC numbers) either.

Psychical and Chemical Properties

The next crucial step is to inspect precautionary, emergency, and protective measures.

You should know right away Section 9 is rather descriptive. As the name suggests, it specifies the physical and chemical buildup of materials.

Details can be linked to:

  • Density
  • Appearance
  • Water solubility
  • Odor threshold
  • Flashpoint
  • Freezing/boiling point
  • Etc.

The point of all this is to allow users to quickly establish which materials are involved in hazards. These hazards can take the form of spills or be the result of human error (improper container labeling).

Section 9 also makes it easier to understand measures such as spill-handling procedures. Finally, readers should learn how to confirm products they’re handling match descriptions provided by suppliers.

Any deviations from them are a red flag.

Better Safe than Sorry

It’s up to business owners and senior management to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Of course, not everyone is a chemist or even has a basic understanding of the field. Therefore, reading SDS requires extensive training.

More specifically, training regulation demands employers to:

  • Initiate training about GHS
  • Teach employees how to read all 16 sections
  • Provide easy access to SDS and related material
  • Adhere to federal SDS language laws

Lastly, feel free to take advantage of online resources to develop a deeper understanding of SDS.

If you want to check out SDS books and e-books, for example, go to this website. It features various hardcover books, templates, training guides, inventory lists, etc. Arm yourself with knowledge!

On the Safe Side

The safety data sheet is essential to occupational safety and health.

Information highlighted there helps businesses prevent injuries and reduce the risk of hazards. It covers a lot of ground, so the first step is to get educated.

You need to know where to look for certain information. Familiarize yourself with the document’s key sections, which are 1, 2, 3, and 9. Pay special attention to the nitty-gritty of hazards that accompany dangerous materials.

Remember that promoting safety is a joint effort of managers, executives, and employees. They all have an important role to play.

Browse the rest of the business section to discover more actionable tips and stay in-the-know.

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