Making Sense of a Safety Data Sheet
YouTube, federal OSHA www.osha.gov, the American Chemical Society's homepage, the NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards-there are too many good chemical safety resources at your and my fingertips to list them all. This is a good thing for all of us, of course. Employers had years to prepare for the new safety data sheets and labels, but surely some workers haven't been trained to the competency level they should be; newcomers' training might be coming up. So a short course on the SDS sections is in order.
Section 1: Product/Chemical Identification
This section lists the chemical's recommended uses, the supplier's contact information and emergency phone number, and common names and synonyms for the product.
Section 2: Hazard Identification
This section provides the hazard classification of the chemical, along with the signal word, hazard statements, pictograms, and precautionary statement(s).
Section 3: Composition of the Chemical
This section identifies the chemical's ingredients and contains information on mixtures.
Section 4: First Aid Measures
Information about important symptoms or effects is found in this section, with first aid instructions listed by relevant routes of exposure (inhalation, contact with skin and eyes, and ingestion).
Section 5: Firefighting
Workers will learn from the information in this section how to fight a fire involving this chemical. It will list recommendations for extinguishing equipment to be used and, crucially, equipment that is not appropriate.
Recommendations about special protective equipment or precautions for firefighting personnel are listed here.
Section 6: Spills, Leaks, Cleanup
This section details what to do to clean up spills and leaks of this substance, along with the emergency procedures to follow and proper methods of containment and decontamination. Emergency procedures, including evacuation instructions, are in this section.
Section 7: Handling and Storage
Precautions for safe handling of the chemical and storing it, including incompatibilities, are listed in this section.
Section 8: Exposure Controls and PPE
All 16 sections of the Safety Data Sheet are important, but this one is a key section for the safety and health of workers who will be or may be exposed to chemicals at work: This section will list OSHA's Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs), ACGIH Threshold Limit Values, and any other exposure limit recommended by the manufacturer, importer, or employer preparing the SDS. This section also details PPE to be worn when handling the chemical and appropriate engineering controls to employ.
Section 9: Physical and Chemical Properties
Upper and lower flammability or explosive limits, vapor pressure, melting point and freezing point, flash point, evaporation rate, and many other physical and chemical properties will be listed here.
Section 10: Stability and Reactivity
In this section is information about specific test data for the chemical, as well as an indication of whether it is stable or unstable under normal ambient temperature and conditions while being handled or in storage.
Section 11: Toxicology Information
Information on likely routes of exposure is included in this section, which should indicate if the information is unknown; delayed, immediate, and chronic effects from short- and long-term exposures also will be listed, along with numerical measures of toxicity and descriptions of symptoms associated with exposure, from the least to the most severe exposures. And if the chemical has been found to be a potential carcinogen, that information will be displayed here.
Sections 12-15 (non-mandatory):
Ecological Information, Disposal, Transport, Other Regulatory Information
Section 16: Additional Information
In this section, workers will find the date when this SDS was prepared or most recently updated. It may include where the changes have been made from the previous version.
OKS Fred Elliott is a freelance writer in Austin, Texas, who writes frequently about occupational safety and health topics.