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OSHA Material Safety Data Sheets MSDS

Employers’ Responsibilities

Material safety data sheets are forms that must be filled out by every manufacturer, importer, and distributor of chemicals for every substance that may pose a health hazard in the workplace, as defined in the Act.

Under the Hazard Communication Standard, employers must maintain a complete and accurate MSDS for each hazardous chemical used in the facility.  If employers do not receive MSDSs with chemical shipments, it is the employer’s duty to contact the manufacturer for clarification or to obtain the missing information.  If chemical manufacturers are uncooperative, employers can contact the nearest OSHA area office.

Over-the-counter purchases.  OSHA notes that employers often purchase so called hazardous substances from retailers, which may not have MSDSs available.  In such cases, the employer should obtain the name and address of the manufacturer or distributor of the chemicals from the retailer and contact the manufacturer to obtain MSDSs.

Employee communication.  Employers must make MSDSs readily available to employees who may be exposed to the hazardous substances during the course of work.  Employers must also make sure each employee has a basic knowledge of the MSDS and how to use the information.  A 1990 Senate Appropriations Committee budget report directed OSHA to make MSDSs easier to understand to make safety training more effective.  OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard Compliance Kit contains a glossary of terms commonly used on MSDSs.

Labeling Requirements

Manufacturers, importers, and distributors must also label shipped containers of hazardous substances.  Labels should be an abbreviated version of the MSDS.  These labels must provide the identity of the substance, specific warnings of the hazards the substance poses (for example, the bodily organs that might be affected by exposure, and the name and address of the manufacturer or other responsible party.  Employers are responsible for ensuring that all containers of Hazardous substances are properly labeled, including temporary storage containers used but not provided by the manufacturer.

Training Requirements

  • the requirements of the Hazard Communication Standard;
  • any operations in employees’ work areas where hazardous chemicals are present;
  • location and availability of the company’s hazard communication program, including the required MSDSs;
  • physical and health hazards of the chemicals in the work area;
  • measures employees can take to protect themselves from these hazards, including information on work practices, emergency procedures, and the personal protective equipment required by the employer; and
  • details of the employer’s written hazard communication program, including an explanation of the labeling system, MSDSs, and how employees can use the appropriate hazard information on the labels and MSDSs. Training Tip.  The Committees on Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) have found these suggestions helpful when training employees in the Hazard Communication Standard:
    • Try to train in small groups of three to five people, sitting around a table rather than in classroom style.  Participants will help one another around the table and ask questions within their small group, rather than embarrassing themselves by raising their hands.
    • Gauge the participant’s pace in learning, and adjust the presentation accordingly
    • Use simple terms.  For example “Acute” means now; “Chronic” is a longer term.
    • Lighten the presentation with anecdotes and humor.  Use case histories right from the organization if possible.
    • Take a break every half-hour.
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