Material Safety Data Sheets
The key to safety
By Chris Northedge — Materials Systems Europe, FMC
Accidents are bad news, usually costly and rarely good P.R. Our workforce is skilled and valuable; a resource not to be risked, yet workers must use materials that may inevitably be hazardous. The key to doing this safely is the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). It would be nice if we never needed materials that posed a risk but we do, and even "safe" materials may present hazards in some circumstances. For example, water is fine to drink or to bathe in but under high pressure, it becomes very dangerous.
Industrial substances are the issue
But, we rarely use pure substances such as H2O. Most often, we use industrial substances that have many constituents and to handle these successfully, we really need the MSDS. When accidents occur, hospitals will know how to deal with pure substances and medical drugs but they cannot be expected to know the constituents of industrial chemicals. A good practice when taking a worker to hospital is to send the MSDS with him, pinned to his shirt if necessary, to ensure the medical staff get the full picture.
What materials require an MSDS?
Typically, it is the non-dimensional materials which cause hazards — the fluids, gases, and powders. They are not normally required for components or finished articles but understanding how and when the material is used is important. Brake pads, when new as components, pose negligible risks, but the dust from used pads may include asbestos or other carcinogenic products. Refinishing yellow or red-painted surfaces may produce dust containing hexavalent chromium, which was never a risk when originally painted. Substances commonly available to the public or a drugstore will not normally require an MSDS. Those products will either pose no risk or already be labeled with instructions and the medical profession will know how to handle them.
The MSDS is required to be used by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under Federal regulation 29 CFR 1910.1200 and by national legislation in all developed and most other countries.The format is laid down by international standard ISO 11014-1 in 16 sections. Some suppliers/organizations may produce their own versions that alter the order and wording, but the content will be the same.
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