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What is MSDS?(Material Safety Data Sheet)

MSDSs are a widely used system to catalog information on chemicals, chemical compounds, and chemical mixtures that exist in paints and coatings and provide information such as melting point, boiling point, flash point, toxicity, health effects, first aid, reactivity, storage, disposal, protective equipment, and spill handling procedures. They are prepared and supplied by material manufacturers to inform users and emergency personnel with critical information on composition, handling, or working with that substances in a safe manner. They also list the proper action to take in the event of a spill, fire, or hazardous contact. In the US, MSDS are also required to provide a 24-hour emergency telephone number to link first responders to a live source of specific information regarding the particular product.

Chemicals commonly used and judged to be hazardous are listed by various industry organizations or national authorities. For example, the American Council of Government Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) provides a database of hazardous chemicals at www.acgih.org. However, chemical listings use the universally applied Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) number (www.cas.org) from which the properties of the chemical can be determined.

In the coating industry, MSDSs generally follow the outline determined by American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in standard ANSI Z400.1.The ANSI MSDS format is one of the most commonly used worldwide and is divided into sixteen sections or categories of information. These sections are:

  • Identification of the chemical product and company
  • Composition (information on ingredients)
  • Hazard identification
  • First aid measures
  • Firefighting measures
  • Accidental release measures
  • Handling and storage
  • Exposure controls and personal protection
  • Physical and chemical properties
  • Stability and reactivity
  • Toxicological information
  • Ecological information
  • Disposal considerations
  • Transport information
  • Regulatory information
  • Other information

Many state regulatory bodies including California mandate for workers to be trained in safe use and understanding of the MSDS and the document to be present in an accessible place on the job site all time. While all workers should read and understand the MSDS for the product they are using, it is still very common to find users and inspectors who do not do this and rely in the fact that the document is present on the worksite. Knowing the location of the MSDS, however, does not convey knowledge or foster understanding. Compounding the problem is the fact that the MSDSs use complex chemical names, abbreviations, and acronyms which makes the data very difficult to read, even for experienced and knowledgeable readers. Because of this, most workers feel intimidated to ask for clarification and this poses an even greater risk.

MSDS documents provide knowledge to workers about safe usage of products and emergency procedures that may save lives or avert environmental damages and it is important for users to understand their meaning and their presence on the job site or during transport all time.

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