MSDS - Understanding Them

Understanding Them...

In an effort to make the workplace safer, the government and businesses require that all chemicals in a building be accompanied by a Material Safety Data Sheet.

Almost everyone is well acquainted with Material Safety Data Sheets. Below we'll review the basics of the MSDS since all employees must be familiar with their application and use. The following links explain the information found in the different sections of a MSDS.

Section 1 - Product/Manufacturer's Identity

This section lists basic information such as product name, number, use, manufacturer name and address, emergency phone number and shipping information. Additionally, it contains HMIS information, which is explained below.

HMIS stands for Hazardous Materials Identification System and it's a quick way to relay health, flammability, reactivity and PPE (personal protective equipment) information to the user. HMIS uses a 0-4 numerical rating system - 4 being most hazardous - 0 being minimal - to assess health, flammability and reactivity ratings. All chemicals have some degree of toxicity - Essential does not sell any products with a health rating of 0. PPE information is relayed in letters. For instance, C is for safety glasses, gloves and apron. A legend under each HMIS box explains each letter.

The health ranking criteria (0-4) is developed using the OSHA definitions of toxic and highly toxic. These are not just arbitrary rankings. Known skin and eye irritation data are also used to rank the health hazard.

Section 2 - Hazardous Ingredients Information

This section is the identity section of the MSDS. Every hazardous ingredient, as deemed by OSHA, must be listed on a MSDS if it is present in concentrations of 1% or greater. Chemicals considered carcinogenic must be listed if they are found in concentrations of 0.1% or greater. The Chemical Abstract Services (CAS) number found after each hazardous ingredient, is a different number that is assigned to almost every chemical known. This CAS number gives emergency personnel detailed information about each chemical present.

Also included in the Hazardous Ingredients Section, after every chemical listed, is a space for an OSHA PEL number. PEL or Permissible Exposure Limits are the air concentrations to which workers can be exposed for a normal 8-hour day, 40-hour work week without ill effects as defined by OSHA. This number is listed in Parts Per Million (PPM). Some chemicals, such as ammonia, have an OSHA PEL of 25 ppm, which is fairly low and indicates that exposure to this chemical should be very limited. Others can be quite high, like carbon dioxide, which has an OSHA PEL of 5000 ppm, indicating a rather harmless chemical.

Section 3 - Physical Data

This section lists 16 common physical measurements that characterize the chemical in question. Some of the more common measurements listed include boiling point, specific gravity (density), odor, color and pH. This data helps emergency crews verify the type of material they are dealing with.

Section 4 - Fire and Explosion Hazard Data

This section gives the measurement used most often by fire-fighting personnel - the flashpoint. Flashpoint is the temperature at which a liquid emits enough vapor to form an ignitable mixture with air. Many flammable liquids have flash points below 50° F. This type of liquid can be very dangerous because it gives off enough vapors to ignite or explode at room temperature. This section also shows which types of fire extinguishers may be used on fires involving the chemical and lists any special fire-fighting procedures or explosion hazards that must be observed.

Section 5 - Reactivity Data

This section deals with reactivity issues, namely stability, incompatibility, hazardous decomposition by-products and hazardous polymerization. Very few of Essentialxs products list reactivity data.

Stability tells you whether the bonds that hold chemical molecules together are strong or weak and make the substance stable or unstable under various conditions.

Incompatibility refers to other substances (chemicals mainly) that should be kept away from the product on the MSDS. If a product contacts certain incompatible substances, the two may react and form a new hazard or may burn or explode and break down into newer hazards.

Hazardous decomposition tells you whether the substance can break down under certain conditions and release toxic or flammable vapors or gases. Windshield washer solvent, for example, breaks down and produces carbon monoxide when burned.

Lastly, hazardous polymerization is a chemical reaction that can cause a fire or explosion and sometimes release hazardous gases. Many burning plastics, for example, release highly harmful hydrochloric acid.

Section 6 - Toxicological Properties

This section gives detailed information on possible health hazards associated with the chemical product. The section, titled, "Effects of Overexposure," gives specific health hazard information, including signs and symptoms of over-exposure, data on chronic health effects, and medical conditions that might be aggravated by exposure to the product. It will tell you the most likely "route of exposure" to the chemical as well. Four possible routes of entry into the body may be listed: eye, skin, ingestion and inhalation. After each route of entry, specific symptoms, such as "redness", "irritation" or "burns" are used to describe the effects of overexposure. Any known long term (chronic) exposure effects are referenced here, when applicable.

Section 7 - Preventative and Control Measures

This information given in this section is very helpful for the user of a given chemical. Respiratory and ventilation needs are looked at first, followed by skin and eye protection needs. Some chemicals require NIOSH/MSHA approved organic vapor respiration if exposure limits are passed. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Mine Safety and Health Agency (MSHA) are two federal organizations that jointly certify respirators. A certified respirator is made to specified construction standards, but this does not ensure that an employee wearing such a mask will receive adequate protection. Proper protection depends on proper selection, fitting, and use of a certified respirator. Skin and eye protection needs boil down to this simple statement: Always wear rubber gloves and chemical goggles when using ANY chemical. This way you will be assured of proper protection no matter what the chemical is. Protective clothing is also necessary when handling chemicals. If rubber protective gear is required, this section will let you know.

The bottom of this section is designed to give basic clean-up information in case of a spill. Proper absorption techniques and disposal methods are discussed here. Often times, for more hazardous spills, further information on disposal laws vary from state to state. One rule of thumb to remember is to always check with local authorities first if you are not sure how to dispose of a spill.

Section 8 - Emergency and First Aid Procedures

Important emergency first aid procedures are listed last in this section. The various routes of exposure (eye, skin, ingestion and inhalation) each have specific first aid procedures to follow if overexposure occurs. There may also be more detailed information that is needed by a physician or emergency medical technician. These instructions are extremely vital to follow when confronted with an emergency.