Cheat Sheet; Understanding The MSDS and Your Obligations In The Workplace To Employees


MSDS stands for Material Safety Data Sheets. MSDS sheets contain nine sections. These sections are:

I. General Information

II. Ingredients

III. Physical Data

IV. Fire and Explosion Hazard Data

V. Health Hazard Information

VI. Reactivity Data

VII. Spill, Leak and Disposal Procedures VIII. Special Handling Information

IX. User's Responsibility

At the top of each sheet is a square on end. It looks like a diamond shape. It is broken into four squares inside this diamond shape. The squares mean:

Top Square (Fire)

Left Square (Toxic)

Right Square (Reaction)

Bottom Square (Special)

In each square there is a number from zero to four. The numbers equal:

Four = Extreme

Three = High

Two = Moderate

One = Slight

Zero = Insignificant

This indicates how safe or volatile the product is. It also gives you an indication of whether the fumes are dangerous, if it is flammable, if it will react adversely with other chemical or if it is radioactive or biologically unsafe.

Section I, the general information section, contains information such as:

Who prepared the MSDS Sheet

The product's trade name and type of chemical

Which chemical family the product belongs to

Basic formula

Name and address of manufacturer

DOT shipping classification

DOT Hazard classification

Section II contains ingredients. Generally only hazardous ingredients will be listed. It will normally be in chart form:

Name of component

CAS number

Percentage of hazardous chemicals

Concentration in parts per million

Section III contains physical data, things that you probably learned in chemistry class:

Boiling point Vapor pressure Vapor density Solubility in water Odor Appearance and color Gravity in terms of water Percentage which is or could be volatile Reactivity, if any, in water Ph Level

Section IV contains fire and explosion data such as:

Flash point What will extinguish it if it catches fire Flammable limits Any special fire fighting procedures Any unusual hazards regarding fire and explosion

Section V contains health hazard information and what happens when:

Product vapor is inhaled

Product comes in contact with skin, eyes, etc.

Product is swallowed

It tells you what symptoms to expect and what should be done including any first aid or emergency procedures.

Section VI contains information regarding the product's reactivity with other elements and common compounds. It discusses conditions to avoid, the product's stability or instability and it's decomposition.

Section VII contains information regarding spill response procedures including any special state, federal or local laws to be met.

Section VIII contains information regarding special handling. It is basically a catch-all section for anything not covered by other sections. Items such as:

Respiratory Protection

Eye Protection



Engineering Controls

are not uncommon in this section. Sometimes you will find equipment discussed here. Special equipment that the manufacturer recommends for CYA purposes in case something goes wrong.

Section IX contains information regarding the user's responsibility. It is a disclaimer section that manufacturers generally use to avoid law suits. Usually they pass the buck by saying people using this product should maintain a safe work place at all times and have in written form a safety manual for employees, workers and independent contractors.

Following all these sections is a blown out of proportion disclaimer usually written in plain English by an attorney releasing the product manufacturer from any responsibility what so ever and further more disavows the manufacturers from any mistakes in the MSDS sheet therein. MSDS sheets must be kept on the truck at all times for all the chemicals you use. We suggest you keep these sheets in out in the open in a binder with clear plastic sheets covering each page to insure that you are in compliance with your obligation to the OSHA "Right to Know Rules".

"Lance Winslow" - If you have innovative thoughts and unique perspectives, come think with Lance;

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