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MSDS Usage: Read It, or WAG It?

December 3, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments
MSDSs provide essential safety and health information about the chemicals in your workplace. But they can only do their job and help protect against chemical hazards if employees actually use them. The MSDS should be the main resource employees rely on when they have questions about chemical hazards and precautions. But do they actually consult the MSDS or do they guess?
One effective way to instill the essential safety habit of actively using MSDSs is to hold refresher training on the different hazardous chemicals employees work with. Make the MSDS for each chemical the centerpiece of the training session. During the session, take employees section by section through the MSDS and show them exactly where to find the information they need and how to interpret that into action. This training can be combined with the required annual Right to Know training, or be conducted separately.
There are plenty of reasons to justify such a training session. For example:
  • A new chemical is introduced into the workplace (or a familiar chemical from a different manufacturer)
  • A new use or process for a chemical is introduced, requiring new or different safe work procedures
  • A new MSDS form-either a different format, or revised information-comes into the workplace
  • New employees entering the workforce may not be familiar with a chemical and safety rules for using it
Here’s some other helpful advice about MSDSs from expert Jim Sweeney, a senior industrial hygienist in OSHA’s Cincinnati area office with more than 30 years of OSHA experience under his belt:
  • Expand your binder. If you use traditional binders to manage your MSDSs, consider including otherhelpful documents in the binder, such as a copy of the standard, your written hazard communication program, your chemical inventory list, and a glossary of technical terms.
  • Don’t keep workers in the dark. Sometimes third-shift workers are literally left in the dark when it comes to getting their hands on the MSDS binder, says Sweeney. That’s because the document is locked in a supervisor’s office only open during the day. The answer is to place at least one additional binder in a break room or other location that never closes.
  • Train the troops. Make sure workers know how to find and interpret the safety and health information they need. Don’t just hand them an MSDS and tell them to read it, or point to a computer terminal or a fax machine and tell them to find it.
  • Keep MSDSs up to date. Sweeney recommends that you establish an orderly schedule for MSDS review to ensure that the sheets are up to date and reflect precisely what’s in use.
  • Hold on to old sheets. Don’t discard MSDSs for substances no longer in use. Keep them in a separate file so that they can be consulted if it is learned, for example, that a component formerly used has been determined to cause illness.
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