If you haven’t done so already, you should obtain the latest version of the NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards and Other Databases on CD-ROM. The information in the CD provides valuable, and sometimes essential, chemical safety information for both routine and emergency use.

The latest version of the CD, released in February 2004, is DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2004-103. The CD may be ordered free from NIOSH by:

  • Calling 1-800-35-NIOSH;
  • Order online at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/email-pubs.html;
  • E-mail request to Pubstaff@cdc.gov; or
  • Mail request to: NIOSH Publications, 4676 Columbia Parkway, Mail Stop C-13, Cincinnati, OH 45226-1998

If you attend any of the major national or regional environmental health and safety (EHS) conferences in the coming months, it’s likely that you may find a complimentary copy of the CD. Inquire if you don’t readily see it.

The sooner you get the CD the better. If NIOSH runs out of free CDs the product becomes available, at cost, from vendors. The National Technical Information Service, for example, offers the CD for sale at $141.00 plus $5.00 S&H.

Wealth of info

The databases found on the CD include:

  • Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health Concentrations (IDLH);
  • International Chemical Safety Cards (ICSCs);
  • NIOSH Certified Equipment List;
  • NIOSH Manual of Analytical Methods;
  • NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards;
  • OSHA Sampling and Analytical Methods;
  • Recommendations for Chemical Protective Clothing;
  • Specific Medical Tests Published for OSHA Regulated Substances;
  • Toxicological Review of Selected Chemicals; and
  • 2000 Emergency Response Guidebook.

Many of the databases are linked within the CD. Starting from the Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards, for a specific chemical you may link to IDLH documentation, measurement methods, toxicity studies, i.e. Registry of Toxic Effects of Chemical Substances (RTECS), ICSC Card information, and medical tests.

The CD also provides “Tools and References” including a Conversion Calculator; Hazard IDs; PPE; Respiratory Protection; Hazard Controls; Indoor Air Quality; Periodic Table; and RTECS User Guide.

The information in Tools and References helps save time and improves the quality of EHS work. The database on Indoor Air Quality, for example, includes the EPA publication Building Air Quality: A Guide for Building Owners and Facility Managers. Within this publication is found more than a dozen very useful forms such as IAQ Management Checklist, Ventilation Worksheet, IAQ Complaint Form, and Incident Log. The IAQ database also includes the CDC publication Guidance for Protecting Building Environments from Airborne Chemical, Biological, and Radiological Attacks and its sister publication dealing with building filtration and air-cleaning systems related to CBR attacks.

The CD contains freeware applications such as Netscape Communicator and Adobe Acrobat Reader for viewing files that are in HTML and PDF format. The information in the CD works with both Windows and Macintosh systems.

Stand-alone reference

While information in the CD can be found online, or linked from the CD to online sources, there may not be an online connection when you need the information. The shrinking size, weight and cost of notebook computers, coupled with longer battery life and availability of large (15+ diagonal inches) screens increase the portability, presentation and value of the information on the CD. The information in the CD stands alone very well.

Other portable stand-alone chemical safety databases include handheld devices such as the Hazmaster G3 Decision Support System and the Palmtop Emergency Action for Chemical (PEAC) system. These provide the similar information to that found in NIOSH’s Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards and Other Databases on CD-ROM, but these other databases are expensive. The Hazmaster software, for example, costs more than $1,000, including costs for annual updates, and the Department of Defense was recently authorized to spend $2.5 million for 500 PEAC systems.

Ready access

Ready access to accurate chemical safety information is what the NIOSH CD is all about. When I leave the office I usually have my notebook computer with me and I always keep the NIOSH CD in the drive bay. It’s an essential and often-used reference for me.

Among the most valuable functions is using the information in the CD to verify the accuracy and completeness of material safety data sheets. This past March the Senate Committee on Health, Education, and Labor heard testimony that many MSDSs may be inaccurate, incomplete, or difficult to comprehend. OSHA has launched an initiative to improve the quality of MSDSs. One of the compliance initiatives includes OSHA using International Chemical Safety Cards (ICSCs), provided with NIOSH’s Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards and Other Databases, as a screening tool for reviewing MSDSs.

Making your point

Use of ICSCs and other data in the CD can help even laymen understand chemical safety responsibilities. For example, I recently met with the president of a small manufacturing company and his CFO to discuss the company’s hazard communication responsibilities.

A review of the company’s paper MSDSs found that important hazard information was lacking in several MSDSs and complete hazard and risk information were not communicated to employees. I pointed out the disclaimer on MSDSs that required users (e.g., employers) to verify accuracy and completeness of hazard information.

The president and CFO watched on my notebook computer screen as I quickly showed them via the NIOSH CD what information should have been included with several of the company’s MSDSs. In short, the information in the NIOSH CD made my proposal to help the company with their hazard/risk communications a rather easy sell.

Most employees trained in DOT HAZMAT and EPA and OSHA chemical release programs (e.g., Risk Management Plans, Hazwoper, etc.) probably received training on some printed documents (e.g., 2000 Emergency Response Guidebook) from the NIOSH CD. These employees are likely technically savvy enough to appreciate viewing and learning about the full information available in the CD.

If employees want their own CD, especially since it’s free, they should be encouraged to get it. It’s preferable that employees reference an accurate and known chemical safety database rather than having them go online and finding information that may be misleading or simply just wrong.

The NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards and Other Databases on CD-ROM is my most valuable EHS reference. You should make it yours, too.