News & Information Blog

Speed Reading Safety Data Sheets

By Susen Trail | 06/27/2021

Suppose you are a new Safety Manager and there has been at least a six month gap between your hire date and the last Safety Manager's employment, that no one will talk about.  As you do your first day on the job walk-through, you see evidence of long-term neglect of standard health and safety rules and the Safety Data Sheets (SDS), and the paper files are a shambles. You know that, once everything is organized and up to date you are going to have to read every SDS.  No, I'm not kidding.

First, find out what is there and what is not: the inventory of chemicals currently present in the facility must be updated.  If you happen to have someone on restricted duty you may be able to get them back to work early.  Give them the list, check off what is here, what is not, and write in chemicals not found on the inventory.

Second, compare the list to the currently available SDS and obtain any that are missing.  Usually you can get them online with the chemical name, or the chemical name plus manufacturer.  Note: if you have Julie's Bleach and the chemical on site is Fred's Bleach, you still have to get the SDS for the chemical and from the manufacturer of that chemical.  Why?  Well, if Julie's Bleach is less concentrated than Fred's Bleach you may have employees wearing more PPE than they need.  Fred's Bleach is corrosive, and Julie's Bleach is not.

So, now you have a pile of SDSs to go through and very little time in which to do it.  Employees are being exposed to who knows what while you are stuck in your office basically doing research.  In keeping with my belief that Safety does not need to be that hard, I'll let you in on my secret: Speed Reading an SDS.

  1. Is the revision date within five years of the present date?
    • If not, check with the manufacturer for the last revision date. If it's earlier than yours, download or ask for a new SDS.
  2. Section 1 is supposed to include the recommended use of the chemical. Are you using the product as intended? 
    • If not, check with the manufacturer to see if there are any additional hazards.
  3. Section 2 contains the hazards of the chemical.  The only useful information for chemical users are the Hazard statements and Precautionary statements. (The Pictograms, like NFPA and HMIS numbers are for viewing hazards at a distance.  For example, fire fighters, or chemical spill response teams.)
  4. Cross reference Section 2 with Section 11, Toxicological Information. They should match. 
    • If your Section 2 says no hazards and Section 11 states it's a carcinogen, and I have read several like this, call the manufacturer and get them to sort it out. Or, find your local Industrial Hygienist.

If you find no hazards at this point above irritation, then you are done.  Typically, the majority of chemicals fall into this category and quickly identifying and setting aside the low hazard chemicals allows you to concentrate on the those that require controls and training.   Frankly, I love chemicals that are only irritants as employee exposures are self limiting.

Keep in mind that the SDS is one of the four points of your hazard communication strategy.  The lynch pin for the communication of hazards is the chemical name.  It connects the chemical to:

Simple Safety Coach provides two options for SDS management.  Our dashboard will provide a link to your SDS management service or to your uploaded SDS'.  As you can see from the picture we gather information on the location, storage, and use of the chemical as well as the name.  The PDF summary report, Inventory of Chemicals, includes this information in your chemical inventory.

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