Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)

Real Life Claims

A YMCA employee was hospitalized after inhaling a volatile mixture of two common pool chemicals. The poisonous chlorine gas vapors quickly spread through the Y, endangering over 100 members, mainly children. A prompt response from the local fire department and a hazardous materials team is the only reason injuries were not more serious. According to the Center for Disease Control, the employee’s failure to follow the chemical guidelines could have resulted in dozens of fatalities. In addition to symptoms such as vomiting and skin blisters, chlorine gas can cause a fluid buildup in the lungs called pulmonary edema which can be fatal. The executive director stated the employees were familiar with the chemicals and attributed the incident as a failure to interpret the chemical’s safety information.

Chemical Exposure Statistics

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that exposures to chemicals used for large scale cleaning account for approximately 860,000 occupational illnesses and 60,000 deaths every year. Pool maintenance related injuries account for over 5,000 emergency room visits annually, according to the CDC. These statistics highlight the potential dangers chemicals pose, and why it is crucial to provide protection for their employees and patrons.

What does a MSDS Contain?

Material Safety Data Sheets are forms containing information concerning the properties of a particular substance. They are available for all chemicals and substances and are designed to provide workers and emergency personal proper procedures when handling the particular substance. MSDSs may come in different formats and contain varying amounts of information.  The MSDS format developed by OSHA provides employees with easy access to the most important and relevant information about the chemicals they are using. The dangerous incident mentioned in the Reality Alert could have been avoided if the employee had a full familiarity and understanding of the MSDSs for the chemicals being used.

The following list contains the most important information on a MSDS.

  1. Product Name/Other Designations: The name of the chemical and what it is identified as on the package’s label.
  2. Distributor/Emergency Telephone Numbers: The name and pertinent contact information of the company that created the chemical including phone number and address, along with phone numbers of who to call in case of an emergency involving the chemical.
  3. Product Description/Physical Data: All of the physical properties of the chemical including but not limited to odor, normal appearance, boiling point, melting point, water solubility, evaporation rate, and more.
  4. Hazardous Ingredients: The chemical identification number created by the Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS), exposure limits, and chemical’s harmful components.
  5. Health Hazard Data: Does the chemical absorb through the skin? Is it inhaled? Does it have to be ingested? Can it be any combination of these exposures? Certain chemicals will take effect immediately, like skin burns. Some may take hours or days before they take effect. Others will take effect only after significant prolonged exposure, like lung cancer.  The MSDS gives examples of early warning signs such as blurred vision, headaches, vomiting, nausea, rashes, swelling, burning, and more.
  6. Reactivity Data: This section outlines the various ways a chemical will react to heat, light, moisture, other chemicals, and more.  By understanding the potential dangers certain substances and conditions pose to chemicals, you can be sure to store them in a safe, hazard-free environment.
    • Place chemicals with the potential to react dangerously away from each other; certain chemicals when they come in contact with one another can combust.
    • Make sure the room with chemicals is well-ventilated.
    • Temperature, light, and moisture can adversely affect chemicals.
    • Keep chemicals stored in a structurally sound setting where it would be difficult for them to fall or break. Keep chemicals stored away from potentially contaminating water sources such as drains, locker rooms, or pools.
    • Avoid exposure to the sick, elderly, young, pregnant, or any individual that may be adversely affected by even minor exposure to hazards.
  7. Special Protection and Precautions: Specific safety and handling precautions are listed in this section, including the correct types of safety equipment including gloves, eye protection, masks, respirators, and what level and type of gear is needed. The MSDS outlines exactly what types of protective gear is best suited for reducing exposures to certain chemicals, such as whether to use rubber or nitrate gloves as opposed to latex gloves for handling certain hazards.
  8. Health Hazard Data (First Aid): First aid and medical procedures including washing affected skin or eyes, removing contaminated clothing, administering oxygen, inducing vomiting, and others depending on the type of chemical exposure.
  9. Spill Procedures/Waste Disposal: This section lists organizations to contact in case of a spill including poison control, hazmat, or the paramedics. Also, if there are any special cleanup procedures to adhere to or any other special precautions that should be taken such as evacuation.
  10. Fire and Explosion Data: This section details what types of extinguishing methods are appropriate if the chemical is near or on fire including dry chemical, water spray, foam, and carbon dioxide. Also the chemical’s flashpoint, special firefighting instructions, specific firefighting methods, unusual hazards, product flammability, and more.

Properly Displaying a MSDS

The only requirements for MSDS is they are maintained on site, they are readily accessible, and they are available for every product used in the facility including products brought from home. It is important all employees not only know where every MSDS is kept, but have access to them at all times without barriers. This means they are not stored on a password protected computer, locked inside a room or file cabinet, or stored in difficult to find places. Employees should not have to ask a supervisor for a MSDS. Large facilities with multiple sites must maintain complete and up to date MSDS at every location. MSDS may be maintained electronically, but this method must be barrier free without any password protection or log-in barriers. Electronically stored MSDS need to be backed up by a hard copy in case of a power outage or computer malfunction. There are no specific guidelines for organizing MSDS outlined by OSHA; typically they are organized in a three-ring binder or some other type of folder.

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