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Using Material Safety Data Sheets

MSDSs aren't just for chemists!

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What is a Material Safety Data Sheet or MSDS?

A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) is a written document that provides product users and emergency personnel with information and procedures needed for handling and working with chemicals. MSDSs have been around, in one form or another, since the time of the ancient Egyptians. Although MSDS formats vary somewhat between countries and authors (an international MSDS format is documented in ANSI Standard Z400.1-1993), they generally outline the physical and chemical properties of the product, describe potential hazards associated with the substance (health, storage cautions, flammability, radioactivity, reactivity, etc.), prescribe emergency actions, and often include manufacturer identification, address, MSDS date, and emergency phone numbers.

Why Should I Care?

Although MSDSs are targeted at workplaces and emergency personnel, any consumer can benefit from having important product information available. An MSDS provides information about proper storage of a substance, first aid, spill response, safe disposal, toxicity, flammability, and additional useful material. MSDSs are not limited to reagents used for chemistry, but are provided for most substances, including common household products such as cleaners, gasoline, pesticides, certain foods, drugs, and office and school supplies. Familiarity with MSDSs allows for precautions to be taken for potentially dangerous products; seemingly safe products may be found to contain unforeseen hazards.

Where do I find Material Safety Data Sheets?

In many countries, employers are required to maintain MSDSs for their workers, so a good place to locate MSDSs is on the job. Also, some products intended for consumer use are sold with MSDSs enclosed. College and university chemistry departments will maintain MSDSs on many chemicals. However, if you are reading this article online then you have easy access to thousands of MSDSs via the internet. There are links to MSDS databases from this site. Many companies have MSDSs for their products available online via their websites. Since the point of an MSDS is to make hazard information available to consumers and since copyrights don't tend to apply to restrict distribution, MSDS are widely available. Certain MSDSs, such as those for drugs, may be more difficult to obtain, but are still available upon request.

Learn How to Find MSDSs

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