Employers are required to provide and maintain material safety data sheets (MSDSs) for any hazardous chemical used in the workplace. What are some tips for efficiently keeping MSDSs current and accessible?


There are three steps to efficiently keeping MSDSs current and accessible: 1) Make sure that you perform a physical chemical inventory on an annual basis to ensure that you have an MSDS for each and every chemical in use at your facility; 2) Utilize a chemical approval process (electronic methods are generally the most efficient) for managing the flow of chemicals into your facility; 3) Take advantage of the technology and services available in the market today that allow you to electronically manage all facets of your chemical inventory system.

By controlling the incoming chemicals, performing an inventory to make sure that all chemicals and MSDSs are accounted for, and using the technology available today, employees can be assured of 24/7, immediate access to the important chemical safety data found on MSDSs.

R. Scott Williams, Director of Sales, Industrial Data Systems, Inc. (SiteHawk Applications)

You need to automate your MSDS set: Have an electronic database from which you can quickly pull the sheets you need. But that data must be accurate. By law, you had better have an MSDS for every hazardous product you use. You also should weed from your database MSDSs for products you no longer have.

An increasingly important key for reconciling compliance over enterprises is conducting efficient physical inventories with an electronic device interfaced with your MSDS master database. In that kind of well-managed situation, you can approach 95 percent or better synchronicity of MSDS inventory compared to physical inventory.

Mark Wysong, CEO, Dolphin Software, Inc.

Maintaining updated paper copies of MSDS in multiple areas can be a very costly and labor-intensive effort. Partnering with a third-party vendor for MSDS management is a practical alternative.

Effective MSDS management begins with obtaining an accurate listing of products requiring an MSDS. This can be accomplished by conducting an assessment of hazardous materials on-site. This list can then be cross-referenced with a vendor’s existing MSDS database and any missing or revised MSDS obtained directly from the manufacturer, ensuring a current MSDS is always available. MSDS can then be accessed via a simple Internet or faxback system. Vendors can also provide 24-7-365 response for emergencies, alternative backup or employee assistance.

Steve Hollingsworth, Director, Technical Services, 3E Company

While facilities using hazardous chemicals spend time and money to keep MSDSs current and accessible, expecting currency and access to maximize workplace safety is like expecting an infant to be able to swim simply because a lifeguard is on duty. It misses the point entirely.

When employers rely on the information in MSDSs to respond to a chemical incident, they are just asking for trouble. Most MSDSs are inaccurate and written in languages that stretch even a toxicologist’s intellectual capacity. Keeping them current and accessible does not respond to the core flaw: They are not doing the job they are designed to do, in that a growing number of chemical-related deaths and injuries are being attributed to faulty hazcom systems.

Categorization is the future of hazcom, where chemicals can be grouped by hazard level — in plain English. Effective categorization promotes a level of accuracy, comprehensiveness and simplicity in chemical management and training that the MSDS alone simply cannot.

John Rooney, President, MC Technologies

Keeping your MSDS library up-to-date is difficult, especially if you’re managing a paper-based library. The most efficient approach is to convert and manage your MSDSs electronically. There are many electronic options available, but no two solutions are alike.

The key is to find a system that updates MSDS content on an ongoing basis. Also, look for services that offer automatic updates for its customers.

Also, for compliance, it is important to look for systems that provide a backup offering. Some online services include a desktop management component, enabling you to download MSDSs to a local software application. This is important so you’ll always have access to your MSDSs.

Glenn Trout, President, MSDSonline

The most important aspect of proper MSDS management is to always insist that vendors send the MSDS along with their product shipment to your facility. This helps to ensure that all documentation resides at the EHS’s plant or facility.

Secondly, EHS professionals might want to consider using an MSDS management service company that provides both software and MSDS update services. In many cases, this approach will save both time and money.

Thirdly, it’s now becoming common practice for companies to deploy their MSDSs to their employees via their corporate Intranet.

Joe Kelleher, VP of Sales, Online-MSDS