The safety of workers in laboratories and warehouses storing chemicals is a joint responsibility of all. This statement is often boldly displayed in concerned departments. However, every laboratory or warehouse worker cannot be expected to know the properties and hazards of all materials and therefore it is important to realize that safety can be implemented only when awareness on the hazards posed by chemicals and other materials is shared between all those concerned.
A material safety data sheet or MSDS, as it is often referred to, is a document that serves this purpose. It lists out details of physical and chemical properties, technical data, trade and common names, hazards, remedies on exposure and safe handling practices on chemicals to users and those involved in their handling and transportation.
Information available in MSDS
A material safety data sheet provides details that should not be overlooked or ignored by anyone involved in handling, transportation or laboratory usage of chemicals. It becomes all the more important to familiarize yourself with MSDS before you decide to use or handle a new chemical. Before proceeding further it is necessary to familiarize with the type of information available in the MSDS.
- Class of chemical, chemical name and trade name(s)
- Physical description of material along with its characteristic physical properties
- The decomposition behaviour and release of dangerous decomposition products, if any
- Common chemical properties and reactivities with incompatible materials
- Hazard properties and flammable limits of volatile and explosive materials
- Guidelines on safe disposal
- Recommendations on use of safe packaging materials.
Handling and Storage
Each material requires precautions in its handling and storage. MSDS lists out:
- Special handling procedures
- Recommended storage conditions such as air conditioning, humidity, temperature and exposure to light
- Safety practices in case of spills, accidental release, fires, etc
- Requirement of safety gear and special material handling tools
The effects of exposure to a material may not be evident immediately but long-term effects can prove to be detrimental to health. MSDS lists out such effects, particularly:
- Short-term and long-term exposure hazards
- Safe limits of exposure
- Entry routes into the body and resulting damages to different body organs
- Recommendations on protective safety gear and how to prevent exposure
- Safe disposal practices to prevent adverse effects on environment
Transportation staff is also susceptible to dangers when transporting hazardous substances. Even the onlookers in event of accidents can suffer severe damages in case of accidents during transportation. MSDS provides the required guidelines for safe transport of such materials
- Need for hazard warning information and prominent display of hazard sign on transport vehicle
- Precautions during loading and unloading of containers
- Special packaging requirements for safe transport
- Need for protection against natural elements such as sunlight and rain during transportation
Fires resulting from chemicals can lead to widespread damage inside warehouse or a laboratory. Information on fire hazards of a product must be known to all concerned. MSDS lists out the following:
- Type of fire resulting from a product and requirement of class of fire extinguisher
- Personal fire protection for firefighting staff especially if toxic or corrosive fumes result from such fires
- Storage conditions and practices to prevent fire accidents
First aid measures
- First aid remedies in case of injuries or poisoning resulting from mild or high exposure
- Immediate first aid steps to be adopted before seeking expert medical attention
- Steps to be taken to handle emergencies
- Information on contacting for expert advice in case of exposure to special chemicals
The MSDS provides highly valuable information on safe handling of materials used in laboratories. It is therefore necessary that all should be made aware of the importance of MSDS sheets and should have easy access to them at all times.