What is a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)?

Occupational health and safety laws often deal specifically with chemicals.

A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) is the official documentation of the properties of a particular substance recorded in a form for easy viewing. Its purpose is to provide workers, consumers and safety personnel with complete information about potentially hazardous chemicals or components in a particular substance or product. The information contained in the form includes physical data, storage, handling and disposal.

Variations of MSDS forms can be found in various countries. While the sheet can provide consumers with specific information about a product’s potentially harmful effects or contents, it is primarily designed to be useful to those working with a substance or treating those who have been injured by accidental exposure or misuse of a product.

Material Safety Data Sheets are widely used and make cataloging chemical information easier and more efficient. Any workplace that uses a chemical-based product must have MSDS information accessible to its employees. Likewise, any product that contains potentially hazardous chemicals must be labeled with an appropriate warning symbol and the product must be able to be referenced on the MSDS for specific handling and exposure information.

Each country that uses these forms has a specific organization in charge of enforcing MSDS formats and contents, as well as regulations imposed on manufacturers and employers. In the United States, the mandatory organization is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In Canada, the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) sets out the regulations.

Although the formats of the sheets vary, the information they contain is quite consistent. While industrial and commercial companies make the most of MSDS forms, consumers can request one for any chemical they purchase. Information can be obtained from the dealer or manufacturer. Likewise, anyone performing work on a home that requires the use of chemicals, whether landscaping or extermination, can provide the homeowner with an MSDS for any product they may use.

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