Thursday, 27 October 2011 20:21

Case Study: Hazard Communication: The Chemical Safety Data Sheet or the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)

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A systematic approach to safety requires an efficient flow of information from the suppliers to the users of chemicals on potential hazards and correct safety precautions. In addressing the need for a written hazard communication programme, the ILO Code of Practice Safety in the Use of Chemicals at Work (ILO 1993) states, “The supplier should provide an employer with essential information about hazardous chemicals in the form of a chemical safety data sheet.” This chemical safety data sheet or material safety data sheet (MSDS) describes the hazards of a material and provides instructions on how the material can be safely handled, used and stored. MSDSs are produced by the manufacturer or importer of hazardous products. The manufacturer must provide distributors and other customers with MSDSs upon first purchase of a hazardous product and if the MSDS changes. Distributors of hazardous chemicals must automatically provide MSDSs to commercial customers. Under the ILO Code of Practice, workers and their representatives should have a right to an MSDS and to receive the written information in forms or languages they easily understand. Because some of the required information might be intended for specialists, further clarification may be needed from the employer. The MSDS is only one source of information on a material and, therefore, it is best used along with technical bulletins, labels, training and other communications.

The requirements for a written hazard communication programme are outlined in at least three major international directives: the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Hazard Communication Standard, Canada’s Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) and the European Community’s Commission Directive 91/155/EEC. In all three directives, the requirements for preparing a complete MSDS are established. Criteria for the data sheets include information about the identity of the chemical, its supplier, classification, hazards, safety precautions and the relevant emergency procedures. The following discussion details the type of required information included in the 1992 ILO Code of Practice Safety in the Use of Chemicals at Work. While the Code is not intended to replace national laws, regulations or accepted standards, its practical recommendations are intended for all those who have a responsibility for ensuring the safe use of workplace chemicals.

The following description of chemical safety data sheet content corresponds with section 5.3 of the Code:

Chemical safety data sheets for hazardous chemicals should give information about the identity of the chemical, its supplier, classification, hazards, safety precautions and the relevant emergency procedures.

The information to be included should be that established by the competent authority for the area in which the employer’s premises are located, or by a body approved or recognized by that competent authority. Details of the type of information that should be required are given below.

(a) Chemical product and company identification

The name should be the same as that used on the label of the hazardous chemical, which may be the conventional chemical name or a commonly used trade name. Additional names may be used if these help identification. The full name, address and telephone number of the supplier should be included. An emergency telephone number should also be given, for contact in the event of an emergency. This number may be that of the company itself or of a recognized advisory body, so long as either can be contacted at all times.

(b) Information on ingredients (composition)

The information should allow employers to identify clearly the risks associated with a particular chemical so that they may conduct a risk assessment, as outlined in section 6.2 (Procedures for assessment) of this code. Full details of the composition should normally be given but may not be necessary if the risks can be properly assessed. The following should be provided except where the name or concentration of an ingredient in a mixture is confidential information which can be omitted in accordance with section 2.6:

  1. a description of the main components, including their chemical nature;
  2. the identity and concentrations of components which are hazardous to safety and health
  3. the identity and maximum concentration to be found of components which are at the concentration or exceed the concentration at which they are classified as hazardous to safety and health in lists approved or recognized by the competent authority, or which are prohibited at higher concentrations by the competent authority.


(c) Hazard identification

The most important hazards, including the most significant health, physical and environmental hazards, should be stated clearly and briefly, as an emergency overview. The information should be compatible with that shown on the label.

(d) First-aid measures

First-aid and self-help measures should be carefully explained. Situations where immediate medical attention is required should be described and the necessary measures indicated. Where appropriate, the need for special arrangements for specific and immediate treatment should be emphasized.

(e) Firefighting measures

The requirements for fighting a fire involving a chemical should be included; for example:

  1. suitable extinguishing agents;
  2. extinguishing agents which must not be used for safety reasons;
  3. special protective equipment for firefighters.

Information should also be given on the properties of the chemical in the event of fire and on special exposure hazards as a result of combustion products, as well as the precautions to be taken.

(f) Accidental release measures

Information should be provided on the action to be taken in the event of an accidental release of the chemical. The information should include:

  1. health and safety precautions: removal of sources of ignition, provision of sufficient ventilation, provision of suitable personal protective equipment;
  2. environmental precautions: keeping away from drains, need to alert the emergency services, and possible need to alert the immediate neighbourhood in the event of an imminent risk;
  3. methods for making safe and cleaning up: use of suitable absorbent materials, avoiding production of gases/fumes by water or other diluent, use of suitable neutralizing agents;
  4. warnings: advise against reasonably foreseeable hazardous actions.


(g) Handling and storage

Information should be given about conditions recommended by the supplier for safe storage and handling, including:

  1. design and location of storage rooms or vessels;
  2. separation from workplaces and occupied buildings;
  3. incompatible materials;
  4. conditions of storage (e.g., temperature and humidity, avoidance of sunlight);
  5. avoidance of sources of ignition, including particular arrangements to avoid static build-up;
  6. provision of local and general ventilation;
  7. recommended methods of work and those to be avoided.


(h) Exposure controls and personal protection

Information should be given on the need for personal protective equipment during use of a chemical, and on the type of equipment that provides adequate and suitable protection. Where appropriate, a reminder should be given that the primary controls should be provided by the design and installation of any equipment used and by other engineering measures, and information provided on useful practices to minimize exposure of workers. Specific control parameters such as exposure limits or biological standards should be given, along with recommended monitoring procedures.

(i) Physical and chemical properties

A brief description should be given of the appearance of the chemical, whether it is a solid, liquid or gas, and its colour and odour. Certain characteristics and properties, if known, should be given, specifying the nature of the test to determine these in each case. The tests used should be in accordance with the national laws and criteria applying at the employer’s workplace and, in the absence of national laws or criteria, the test criteria of the exporting country should be used as guidance. The extent of the information provided should be appropriate to the use of the chemical. Examples of other useful data include:

  • viscosity
  • freezing point/freezing range
  • boiling point/boiling range
  • melting point/melting range
  • flashpoint
  • auto-ignition temperature
  • explosive properties
  • oxidizing properties
  • vapour pressure
  • molecular weight
  • specific gravity or density
  • pH
  • solubility
  • partition coefficient (water/n-octane)
  • parameters such as vapour density
  • miscibility
  • evaporation rate and conductivity.


(j) Stability and reactivity

The possibility of hazardous reactions under certain conditions should be stated. Conditions to avoid should be indicated, such as:

  1. physical conditions (e.g., temperature, pressure, light, shock, contact with moisture or air);
  2. proximity to other chemicals (e.g., acids, bases, oxidizing agents or any other specific substance which may cause a dangerous reaction).

Where hazardous decomposition products are given off, these should be specified along with the necessary precautions.

(k) Toxicological information

This section should give information on the effects on the body and on potential routes of entry into the body. Reference should be made to acute effects, both immediate and delayed, and to chronic effects from both short- and long-term exposure. Reference should also be made to health hazards as a result of possible reaction with other chemicals, including any known interactions, for example, resulting from the use of medication, tobacco and alcohol.

(l) Ecological information

The most important characteristics likely to have an effect on the environment should be described. The detailed information required will depend on the national laws and practice applying at the employer’s workplace. Typical information that should be given, where appropriate, includes the potential routes for release of the chemical which are of concern, its persistence and degradability, bioaccumulative potential and aquatic toxicity, and other data relating to ecotoxicity (e.g., effects on water treatment works).

(m) Disposal considerations

Safe methods of disposal of the chemical and of contaminated packaging, which may contain residues of hazardous chemicals, should be given. Employers should be reminded that there may be national laws and practices on the subject.

(n) Transport information

Information should be given on special precautions that employers should be aware of or take while transporting the chemical on or off their premises. Relevant information given in the United Nations Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods and in other international agreements may also be included.

(o) Regulatory information

Information required for the marking and labelling of the chemical should be given here. Specific national regulations or practices applying to the user should be referred to. Employers should be reminded to refer to the requirements of national laws and practices.

(p) Other information

Other information which may be important to workers’ health and safety should be included. Examples are training advice, recommended uses and restrictions, references, and sources of key data for compiling the chemical safety data sheet, the technical contact point and date of issue of the sheet.



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Using, Storing and Transporting Chemicals References

American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), Committee on Industrial Ventilation. 1992. Industrial Ventilation: A Manual of Recommended Practices. 22nd ed. Cincinnati, OH: ACGIH.

American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). 1993. Laboratory Ventilation. Standard Z9.5. Fairfax, VA: AIHA.

BG-Measuring System Hazardous Substances (BGMG). 1995. Hauptverband der gewerblichen Berufsgenossenschaften. Sankt Augustin: BGMG.

Burgess, WA, MJ Ellenbecker, and RD Treitman. 1989. Ventilation for Control of the Work Environment. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Engelhard, H, H Heberer, H Kersting, and R Stamm. 1994. Arbeitsmedizinische Informationen aus der Zentralen Stoff- und Productdatenbank ZeSP der gewerblichen Berufsgenossenschaften. Arbeitsmedizin, Sozialmedizin, Umweltmedizin. 29(3S):136-142.

International Labour Organization (ILO). 1993. Safety in the Use of Chemicals at Work. An ILO Code of Practice. Geneva: ILO.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). 1993. Health and Safety Standard; Occupational exposure to hazardous substances in laboratories. Federal Register. 51(42):22660-22684.