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What is a MSDS or Material Safety Data Sheet?

A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) is a document that contains information on the potential health effects of exposure to chemicals, or other potentially dangerous substances, and on safe working procedures when handling chemical products. It is an essential starting point for the development of a complete health and safety program. It contains hazard evaluations on the use, storage, handling and emergency procedures related to that material. The MSDS contains much more information about the material than the label and it is prepared by the supplier. It is intended to tell what the hazards of the product are, how to use the product safely, what to expect if the recommendations are not followed, what to do if accidents occur, how to recognize symptoms of overexposure, and what to do if such incidents occur.

What information is on the MSDS?

In compliance with the American ANSI Z400.1-1998 standard (official title "Standard for Hazardous Industrial Chemicals - Material Safety Data Sheets - Preparation"), European Directive 91/155/EEC on "defining and laying down the detailed arrangements for the system of specific information relating to dangerous preparations in implementation of Article 10 of Directive 88/379/EEC", and following amendments, and International Standard ISO 11014-1 ("Safety data sheet for chemical products -- Part 1: Content and order of sections"), each MSDS must contain sixteen sections:

  1. Product information: product identifier (scientific name, common name), name of the manufacturer and supplier, addresses, emergency phone numbers
  2. Composition / Information on Ingredients
  3. Hazards Identification: data on flammability, reactivity, chronic hazards,...
  4. First-Aid Mesures: description of recommended first-aid mesures in case an incident occurs, for example, in case of ingestion or inhalation of the substance, or in case of contact of the chemical product with eyes or skin
  5. Fire Fighting Mesures: recommended fire fighting apparatus, methods and products, flash point of the substance, fire-fighting class, upper and lower flammable limit (ULF - LFL), dangerous combustion products, recommendations for preventing explosions and fires
  6. Accidental Release Mesures: mesures to be taken in case of the accidental release of the chemical substance or mixture into the environment: soil, rivers, waterways, sources of potable and non potable water, see, etc.
  7. Information on Recommanded Handling and Storage Conditions: recommended procedures for the handling, storage and usage of the chemical substance or mixture
  8. Exposure Controls / Personal Protection: this section often contains the exposure limits per country (classified by form of exposure or overexposure), as well as the personal protection equipment (PPE) recommended or required by law (respiratory protection, skin protection, eye protection, face mask, etc.)
  9. Physical and Chemical Properties: product properties such as vapor pressure, vapor density, specific weight, water solubility, appearance, odor type, boiling point, pH value, viscosity, evaporation rate, freezing point,...
  10. Stability and Reactivity Data: information on the stability of the substance, conditions to avoid, incompatibility with other substances or materials, hazardous decomposition products, etc.
  11. Toxicological Information: information on the acute and chronic toxicity of the chemical substance, possibly data on the known carcinogenic properties, or labo tests
  12. Ecological Information: information on the ecotoxicity of the chemical product, analysis of its components, biodegradability in different environments, etc.
  13. Disposal Considerations: this section often contains references to local legal requirements regarding the disposal of hazardous chemical products
  14. Transport Information: shipping name, hazard class, UN number, package group
  15. Regulatory Information: classification of the substance according to TSCA, SARA, CERCLA,..., S- and R-Phrases
  16. Other Information: this section often presents a list of abbreviations used in the MSDS, references to EU Directives en European or international (ISO) standards, version management of the MSDS, a disclaimer,...

Why translate your MSDS?

Employers must make sure that all controlled products have an up-to-date (less than three years old) MSDS when they enter the workplace. The MSDS must be readily available to the workers who are exposed to the controlled product, and to the health and safety committee or representative. If an MSDS in English is not completely understood by non-native speakers, the MSDS in question requires to be translated in the native tongue of the personnel handling the hazardous materials. The employer has a duty to make an understandable MSDS for all hazardous products. Also, according to the "downstream flow" principle, any importer, supplier, or reseller of a product containing substances requiring the provision of an MSDS, is under a legal obligation to provide the relevant safety sheets in the language of the importing country, so often an MSDS translation will be needed. In case of accidents, contamination or spillages, an MSDS can be a life insurance for workers handling hazardous substances.