Why Should You Read Safety Data Sheets?

By Robert McNamara and Kurt Bischoff

Safety Accident Form Photo
SHUTTERSTOCK ©

You might ask yourself, “If I don’t read product labels, why would I read a product’s safety data sheet (SDS) information?” The reality is, if you use products and don’t read product labels, you’re probably going to run into problems at some point. The same is true with the product’s SDS. If you use chemical products and don’t read the SDS, you most likely will run into some real problems as you are dealing with health and safety issues.

The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) (29 CFR 1910.1200(g)), revised in 2012, requires that the chemical manufacturer, distributor, or importer provide an SDS for each raw material or finished product to downstream users to communicate information on its hazards, protective equipment needed, first aid, and storage and handling recommendations.

The SDS is important for distributors, contractors, and even your customers or their neighbors. We see or hear on the news from time to time about jobsite fires, which usually result from improper handling of chemicals. Distributors can be fined for selling products that are restricted from being sold in certain markets. I’m sure you also have heard about contractors being kicked off jobsites by either the homeowner, or more likely, as a result of a neighbor that calls a homeowners’ association because of the odors emanating from next door. That neighbor can be next to, below, or above your jobsite.

Safety Data Sheet Sections

It’s hard to say which information you might need for any one particular job, but all the information is very important to have readily available.

  • You might need chemical information if you have an employee or customer who has an allergic reaction. Proactively, if you have an employee that you know has chemical sensitivities, you can look at the SDS and avoid bringing something in that you know is an issue.
  • What happens if there is some issue on a jobsite, and you need to know how to treat someone? It’s good to have that information readily available.
  • You might need to know what to do if you accidentally spill a five-gallon pail of product.
  • Where and how should you properly store product – in your shop or on a jobsite?
  • What personal protective equipment (PPE) should you use when handling a new product?
  • Maybe your distributor needs to know how the product should be properly shipped to your jobsite.
  • What do you do with any extra material once the job is done and you want to dispose of it properly?
  • It provides first responders and attending physicians with vital information in the case of an emergency exposure.

Further information on the purpose and regulations associated with SDSs are available online at osha.gov.

These are just a few of the things that you might be dealing with as a distributor or contractor, but it might also be information you need to provide to your client, their neighbor, or a super-cautious homeowners’ association.

Whenever a manufacturer develops a product, they also must create an SDS. When they ship the product for the first time, or when they update the form, they need to provide and advise the purchaser of the material. In addition, a distributor and/or contractor must have this information and be able to readily produce an SDS to anyone who asks for it at the jobsite. This need can be accomplished through access to a producer’s website where every SDS can be accessed electronically.

When you look at your first SDS, it may seem daunting and like there is too much information. However, if you become familiar with the products you use every day, and get familiar with their SDS, it becomes easier to comprehend and will allow you to compare with other products. The more you read them, the easier it becomes due to familiarity.

An SDS provides guidelines to allow businesses and contractors to assess the potential risks associated with the products being used and stored to develop their own safety guidelines for a facility or a jobsite. A jobsite with very good ventilation, for example, may not require the use of special PPE such as respirators, but if an assessment indicates that there is little ventilation, the jobsite manager may determine that respirators are required and the SDS should indicate what type of respirator is appropriate. Ultimately, each facility and jobsite are responsible for the safety of those who may be exposed and the SDS is a tool to allow them to plan accordingly.

Remember, everyone has a different interpretation of what they deem to be safe versus too risky. Reading and becoming familiar with the SDS for any product you use will allow you to respond to your customer’s concerns in a more-informed manner should the need arise.

As they say, “Safety is not an accident!”

Robert McNamara is the director of marketing and sales for Basic Coatings in Bowling Green, Ohio. He can be reached at rmcnamara@basiccoatings.com or 216.633.4124. Kurt Bischoff is the director of regulatory affairs for Betco in Bowling Green, Ohio. For more information regarding Betco, visit betco.com or call 888.232.3826.

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