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What is a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)?

By J. Beam
Updated May 17, 2024
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A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) is official documentation of the properties of a given substance recorded on a form for easy viewing. Its purpose is to provide workers, consumers, and safety personnel with thorough information on potentially hazardous chemicals or components in a particular substance or product. The information contained on the sheet includes physical data, storage, handling and disposal.

Variations of MSDS forms can be found in several countries. Though the sheet can provide consumers with specific information on a product’s potentially harmful effects or contents, it is primarily designed to be of use to those who work with a substance or treat those who have been injured by accidental exposure or misuse of a product.

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

Each country utilizing these forms have a specific organization in charge of mandating MSDS formats and contents as well as the regulations imposed upon manufacturers and employers. In the United States, the mandating organization is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In Canada, the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) establishes the regulations.

Though formats of the sheets vary, the information contained on them is fairly consistent. While industrial and commercial businesses make the most use of MSDS forms, consumers can request one for any chemical product that they purchase. The information can be obtained from either the retailer or the manufacturer. Similarly, anyone performing work in a home that requires the use of chemicals, be it landscaping or extermination, can provide the owner with an MSDS for any product they might use.

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Discussion Comments
By Fiorite — On Aug 29, 2010

@ Istria- I can help you out with your questions. You should probably keep an MSDS binder in the stock room where you stock the chemicals. You only need one per product, so as soon as you get more, you can recycle the rest. You can either wait to get new MSDS when you place a new order for cleaning supplies, or you can get replacements directly from the manufacturers. You could request them by mail, or find them on the company websites.

As for what is included in the MSDS, they are comprehensive. An MSDS will include all pertinent information regarding the use, safety, precautions, disposal, and cleanup of a chemical. The MSDS will also list all physical and chemical properties, and any chemicals or substances the chemical reacts with. MSDS are an important part of reducing liability for businesses.

By istria — On Aug 29, 2010

@ GenevaMech- I never realized that MSDS data sheets were so important. I own a restaurant, and I don't have any MSDS data sheets for any of the cleaning chemicals I stock. I assume they come packed in the case the chemicals are delivered in, but I always recycle the papers that come in the box with the cardboard. Do you know where I can get MSDS sheets? Also, do you know what is included in the Sheets?

By GenevaMech — On Aug 29, 2010

Material data safety sheets contain important information about chemicals. People should know what is in the MSDS sheets for any chemicals that they work with. They not only describe a chemical and its uses, they give information on proper use and disposal.

Knowing what is contained in an MSDS can also save people from EPA fines, and can prevent litigation from chemical related injuries. Improper disposal of chemicals results in fines for anyone using the chemical, not only the institution or organization that person is affiliated with. Because they are made readily available, the EPA can fine employees, students, and employers.

Institutions and organizations should keep an MSDS in an accessible location where anyone interested can view them freely. Institutions and organizations should also provide an MSDS for any industrial chemical, including cleaning, and kitchen chemicals.

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