Navigating OSHA Safety Data Sheets for Effective Hazardous Chemical Handling

Worker looking at safety data sheet

In the ever-evolving landscape of industrial safety, the handling and management of hazardous chemicals stand as a paramount concern for safety specialists, engineers, and department heads alike. The importance of maintaining an up-to-date and comprehensive hazard communication plan cannot be overstated, especially because hazard communication (1910.1200) has ranked among the Top 5 Most Penalized OSHA Standards in the past seven years. The safety data sheets required in industrial environments have played a central role in effective hazard communication strategies, ensuring workplace safety and regulatory compliance.


Understanding Safety Data Sheets (SDSs)

warning signs about hazardous chemicalsA Safety Data Sheet is a detailed, 16-section document that provides essential information about hazardous chemicals in the workplace. This format was standardized by OSHA in 2012, aligning with the United Nations' global chemical labeling system, marking a significant shift from the previously varied formats of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to a uniform Safety Data Sheet (SDS). Today, OSHA safety data sheets streamline the accessibility of critical information to ensure safety in the workplace through a globally harmonized system.

OSHA Safety Data Sheet: Overview

The SDS includes vital details such as the chemical's identification, hazards, composition, first aid and protective measures, and handling and storage recommendations. It follows a specific labeling system and format, ensuring that critical information in times of emergency is easily accessible at the forefront of the safety data sheet Other supporting details about the chemical hazards are placed in the latter part of the datasheet. OSHA enforces the inclusion of sections 1 through 11, while sections 12 through 15 are regulated by other agencies and are evaluated outside of OSHA’s site inspection process.

Here is an overview of the contents of OSHA safety data sheets.

1 Identification Details the chemical name and recommended uses, along with chemical manufacturers and supplier information.
2 Hazard(s) Identification Describes the hazards of the chemical substance and the appropriate warning information associated with those hazards.
3 Composition/Information on Ingredients Information about the ingredients contained in the product, including chemical identities.
4 First-Aid Measures Provides instructions on how to respond to various types of exposure to the chemical.
5 Fire-Fighting Measures Details the product’s flammability and the fire-fighting techniques and equipment to use.
6 Accidental Release Measures Outlines procedures for addressing spills, leaks, or releases, including containment and cleanup practices.
7 Handling and Storage Recommendations on the safe handling practices and storage of the chemical
8 Exposure Controls/Personal Protection Specifies control measures and personal protective equipment needed.
9 Physical and Chemical Properties Lists the chemical's characteristics.
10 Stability and Reactivity Information on stability and reactivity of the hazardous chemical under specific conditions.
11 Toxicological Information Provides detailed toxicological health effects and exposure pathway information.
12 Ecological Information Contains information on the chemical’s impact on the environment.
13 Disposal Considerations Guidance on proper disposal practices, recycling, or reclamation.
14 Transport Information Includes information on shipping classifications, including UN numbers and shipping names.
15 Regulatory Information Lists any regulatory information concerning the chemical.
16 Other Information Contains the date of the latest SDS revision and may include other useful information.


The Necessity of Safety Data Sheets

OSHA broadly defines a "hazardous chemical" as any substance that presents a physical or health hazard, ranging from flammability to the potential for causing skin or eye damage. While these hazards are commonly associated with the general use of chemicals, the exception lies when it comes to utilization that exceeds the average consumer usage. The safety data sheet is designed to provide employees with information about the possible risks of handling hazardous materials and chemicals in large amounts and quantities, which is often the case in industrial environments.

It aims to ensure that employees are equipped with the knowledge and that critical details are easily accessible for them to manage these substances safely. Thus, the safety data sheet plays a pivotal role in hazard communication plans in minimizing occupational risks and enhancing safety compliance.


Employer and Employee Responsibilities Under OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard

workers consulting safety data sheet

Under OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard, both employers and employees carry pivotal roles in ensuring the workplace safety standard concerning hazardous chemicals.

Employers are tasked with maintaining a comprehensive list of hazardous chemicals present in the workplace, ensuring that Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) are readily accessible to all employees, and conducting thorough training on chemical safety. This training should cover how to read and understand SDSs, recognize and handle chemical hazards, and use personal protective equipment.

Employees, on the other hand, must actively participate in these training sessions, apply the safety standard practices learned, and utilize SDSs to inform themselves about the chemicals they work with. This collaborative approach fosters a safe working environment, emphasizing the importance of communication, education, and adherence to safety protocols.

Maintaining Safety Data Sheets

For industrial safety managers and specialists, maintaining an up-to-date SDS for every hazardous chemical on site is a critical duty. This responsibility involves regularly requesting SDSs from suppliers, updating sheets with the latest chemical hazard information, and ensuring compliance with both OSHA regulations and safety best practices.

Employee Training and Accessibility

Central to the effective use of SDSs is the training of employees. OSHA mandates that workers be trained on the hazardous chemicals in their work area before beginning work and whenever new hazards are introduced. This training ensures that employees understand how to read and interpret SDSs, recognize the protective measures to take, and access the SDSs quickly and efficiently.

In the digital age, more companies are moving towards online safety databases for storing SDSs to enhance ease of access and updateability. However, it's crucial that every employee, not just safety managers or designated personnel, knows how to access these documents swiftly, ensuring that in any emergency, the necessary information is at their fingertips. Regulations have allowed the use of electronic or digital SDSs along with the hard copy as long as such practice does not impede an employee’s immediate access to the datasheet.

The management of Safety Data Sheets is more than a regulatory requirement; it's a cornerstone of workplace safety in the handling and management of hazardous chemicals. By fostering an environment of transparency, education, and accessibility regarding these substances, industrial companies can protect their workforce, minimize risk, and ensure compliance with OSHA standards.


FAQs on OSHA Safety Data Sheets

What is the OSHA standard for safety data sheets?

The OSHA standard for Safety Data Sheets (SDS) is part of the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) 29 CFR 1910.1200. This standard requires chemical manufacturers, distributors, or importers to provide Safety Data Sheets for each hazardous chemical to downstream users to communicate information on these hazards.

Where are SDS sheets required?

SDS sheets are required in any workplace where employees are exposed to hazardous chemicals. Employers must ensure that SDSs are readily accessible to employees during their work shifts within their work area.

Are safety data sheets only required when there are 10 gallons?

The requirement for safety data sheets is not based on the volume of the chemical (such as 10 gallons) but on the presence of hazardous chemicals in the workplace. Any quantity of a hazardous chemical necessitates an SDS.

When must safety data sheets be replaced?

Safety Data Sheets must be replaced whenever there is new information available about the hazards of a chemical, or when a new chemical formulation is introduced. Employers are responsible for keeping the SDSs up to date, ensuring they reflect the most current information provided by the chemical manufacturer or importer.

The material provided in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional/legal advice or substitute government regulations, industry standards, or other requirements specific to any business/activity. While we made sure to provide accurate and reliable information, we make no representation that the details or sources are up-to-date, complete or remain available. Readers should consult with an industrial safety expert, qualified professional, or attorney for any specific concerns and questions.


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Author: Herbert Post

Born in the Philadelphia area and raised in Houston by a family who was predominately employed in heavy manufacturing. Herb took a liking to factory processes and later safety compliance where he has spent the last 13 years facilitating best practices and teaching updated regulations. He is married with two children and a St Bernard named Jose. Herb is a self-described compliance geek. When he isn’t studying safety reports and regulatory interpretations he enjoys racquetball and watching his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys.