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Material Safety Data Sheets, commonly called MSDS`s, have come to be very important documents. Every workplace should have readily-accessible MSDS`s for all the hazardous materials which are used or stored there. This Safety First Topic takes a look at the content of an MSDS and provides some other important information for using an MSDS.

First of all, the time to become familiar with a material`s MSDS is before you begin using the material. If you have responsibility for procuring hazardous material, you should obtain an advance copy of the MSDS to review the safety information before the order is placed. Many companies and other institutions require approval of hazardous materials before they are purchased. The MSDS contains information which is very useful in the approval process.

Once a material is brought into the workplace, everyone who uses it should review the MSDS. You wouldn`t want to wait for an emergency to learn about the material`s hazardous properties! Suppose the material catches fire. The MSDS specifies fire-fighting procedures for the material. However, your chances of successfully extinguishing the blaze are very small if you waste valuable time running to review the MSDS!

There are also other very good reasons to review the MSDS before using a material. By doing so you will learn what personal protective equipment is required when using the material. You will also learn what conditions to avoid when working with the material, such as heat and sparks. MSDS`s also tell you what materials should not be brought into contact with the hazardous material. The MSDS also provides valuable information for storage and disposal of the material.

The information on an MSDS is typically grouped into these categories:

  • hazard ratings, such as NFPA (National Fire Protection) ratings

  • name and address of the material`s manufacturer or importer

  • identity; by common name, synonyms, and chemical abstract number of the material

  • physical and chemical characteristics, such as the material`s appearance, odor, specific gravity, and melting point

  • fire and explosion data, such as the material`s flash point, explosion hazards, and recommended fire extinguishing media

  • physical hazards, such as the material`s stability, incompatible material information, and hazardous decomposition products

  • health hazards, such as inhalation and ingestion hazards, carcinogen classification, and basic first aid information

  • special precautions and spill or leak procedures such as storage, clean-up, and disposal information

  • special protection information such as personal protective equipment recommendations

MSDS`s contain a wealth of useful information for you to use when working with a hazardous material. Remember, the best time to learn the content of the MSDS is before you use the material. Another thing to be aware of is that mistakes can and do happen. If you are using a material that doesn`t seem to fit the description on its MSDS, do not use the material but contact your site`s safety personnel immediately. There could have been a mix-up in the labeling or the information on the MSDS. The material may also be out-of-spec and could be dangerous to use as you were planning

MSDS`s have proven to be very valuable tools in protecting people from hazards. They provide a wealth of information in a convenient form. But MSDS`s are only as useful as you make them. Take the time to review the MSDS`s for every hazardous material you use, and apply the information provided in this Safety First Topic.


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