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|The MSDS FAQ: Content|
For the United States, see our entry on OSHA in the MSDS HyperGlossary for the items that must be included on all U.S. MSDS's. You can include more items than OSHA requires. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has a 16-part standard format which encompasses the areas given in the OSHA standard and adds a few more such as toxicology. In fact, OSHA currently recommends using the ANSI format.
The landscape of MSDS formats and requirements is changing rapidly with the advent of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. This system has been adopted in the EU community and other countries, and is currently in the rulemaking stage in the US. Ultimately, US regulations regarding MSDS format and content will change considerably.
According to a 1997 OSHA-contracted study, "on average, literate workers only understood about 60% of the health and safety information on the MSDSs associated with the hazardous chemical, in all three comprehensibility studies."
The U.S. Department of Defense uses National Supply Numbers (NSN's) (and closely related NIIN numbers) to uniquely and permanently identify items that it purchases. Like CAS numbers, NSN's do not appear on all MSDS's.
EC Numbers (formerly known as EINECS or ELINCS numbers) are assigned to chemicals sold commercially in Europe, but this numbering system covers only ~100,000 chemicals.
UN/NA numbers are another identifying system used in transportation. However, there are only a few thousand UN/NA numbers assigned (out of 24 million+ known chemicals). UN/NA numbers are generally useful only for emergency personnel responding to transportation accidents.
In most cases, the components will interact or chemically react to create another product. If so, a new MSDS must be constructed. This would most likely require professional assistance. See our MSDS Suppliers Page for some leads.
Some may consider the new MSDS requirement to be regulatory overkill, but it is not. When you mix substances that undergo chemical reactions, the resulting mixture may have completely different properties, risks, and hazards. For example, mixing aqueous ammonia and iodine together produces nitrogen triiodide, a powerful contact explosive, a hazard that would not be indicated by the MSDS of either starting material.
If you have a complex mixture such as crude oil where the exact chemical composition may vary from batch to batch you can get away with one generic MSDS to cover a range of compositions. See these OSHA interpretations:
Note: If the workplace where the mixture is created qualifies as a laboratory under the OSHA Laboratory Standard and the mixture is used solely within the laboratory itself, then no MSDS is required per 29 CFR 1910.1450(h)(1)(i). But if that material is shipped to other locations (even other laboratories), one is required as discussed in the next question.
This applies for any amount of material you may be wishing to send elsewhere. The HazCom Standard is based on whether on not a material is hazardous, not the risk associated with a given amount of hazardous material.
For an official OSHA interpretation on this see "Material safety data sheet requirements for experimental chemical mixtures that are shipped off-site" dated February 5, 2004.
A distributor or manufacturer may change the name and address information on the MSDS, however, by doing so they assume important legal responsibilities. According to this official interpretation letter:
OSHA expects the emergency contact to be able to provide information beyond that already contained in the sheet:
If you issue an altered sheet and can't provide this information or the sheet is inaccurate, you may potentially face OSHA, civil and/or criminal penalties! We know of at least one case where altering a sheet landed a company in a lawsuit and strongly suggest that one seek legal counsel before issuing an altered sheet.
While we're not attorneys, it is clear that you need to do at least the following before issuing a sheet with your own name/contact information. First, ensure that the sheet is complete and accurate and document your efforts to do so. Do not simply assume that the information on a sheet that you decided to alter is correct. Second, ensure that you can provide the emergency contact assistance required; see this OSHA interpretation for a discussion of whether the contact telephone number needs to be available 24 hours per day.
We strongly recommend that sheet authors purchase ANSI standard Z400.1-2006, "Hazardous Workplace Chemicals - Hazard Evaluation and Safety Data Sheet and Precautionary Labeling Preparation". You can also find a book titled "Material Safety Data Sheets: The Writer's Desk Reference" on our MSDS-related books page.
You can find some excellent tips on writing an effective MSDS at http://www.osha.gov/dsg/hazcom/hc2inf2.html. This 1997 study includes a finding that "one expert panel review established that only 11% of the MSDSs were found to be accurate in all of the following four areas: health effects, first aid, personal protective equipment, and exposure limits. Further, the health effects data on the MSDSs frequently are incomplete and the chronic data are often incorrect or less complete than the acute data". Therefore, while you can easily make a new MSDS for a common chemical (such as acetone) using another sheet as a template, be sure to triple check the information and document your effort!
Also examine Creating Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety - the tips in it are very useful even for non-Canadians and are good at delineating the various world formats.
For those who want to write or double check the information on their MSDS's, a great resource is the OSHA's Chemical Sampling Information Database. Here you'll find concise data on a large number of chemical substances that may be encountered in industrial hygiene investigations. It's not all the data you'll need, but it gives you a good start. The RTECS database is another good resource and contains toxicology information on over 140,000 compounds! Those writing sheets for the European market should check out the link to the European Chemical Bureau in our FAQ question on European MSDS requirements.
If you are interested in taking a professional MSDS authoring course, ChemADVISOR offers one for $1,500 (US).
The manufacturer, distributer, importer or other "responsible party" listed on the sheet is responsible for the accuracy and completeness of the information on the MSDS. See "Does OSHA determine what information is required under health hazard information or can we use our own data?" and "Are we protected from liability if someone is injured because an MSDS supplied to us is wrong but we had no way of knowing about the error?" elsewhere in this FAQ for more information.
OSHA has a handy Guide for Reviewing MSDS Completeness as well as numerous technical information resources available that can assist MSDS authors. Or you can always hire an experienced professional to write your MSDS's for you.
There at least one for-profit company that bills its "National MSDS Repository", however this is simply a (well-done) exhaustive list of links to manufacturer's web sites, not an actual repository, and it is not affiliated with or required by any government agency.
Manufacturers, distributors etc. are required to give MSDS's to downstream users at no charge so there is really no point in formally copyrighting them. In fact, given that most MSDS's follow a standard format and language, it is unlikely in most cases that one would be able to have an enforceable copyright. One could reasonably argue that most MSDS's are derivative of previous ones or that they simply constitute a list of facts, neither of which merits an enforceable copyright.
On the other hand, if one "gussies up" a sheet with a particular graphic design, organization, and other elements that represent original creative work, then the sheet (in that form) could theoretically be copyrighted. Of course, nothing prevents someone from extracting the basic scientific facts and printing them in a different form.
There are at least a few companies that produce MSDS's that do copyright their sheets. Whether that is an enforceable copyright is unclear. We are unaware of any successful litigation involving violation of an MSDS copyright. That said, we are aware of a several instances in which someone had posted MSDS's to a web site and was sent a takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Those are tough to beat. If the author of the sheet issues one of those and you want to contest it, you will probably need a lawyer or may have to relocate your web/business presence to a country outside US legal jurisdiction.
The complexity of this goes way beyond the copyright aspect. Imagine a manufacturer being sued by a client who needed an MSDS that was required by law....but who couldn't get it because of a confusing copyright issue...and then there being an accident involving that material...and someone suffering great pain, injury or death. Could be quite ugly. On the other hand, consider the viewpoint of a manufacturer who issues regular updates to their MSDS's and does not want multiple outdated versions of them floating around in cyberspace; what happens if there is an emergency and someone grabs an old version with incorrect or outdated information?
Either way, these scenarios illustrate that free and unfettered access to safety information is the best way to go. All manufacturers should post their MSDS's on their web site and ensure that every sheet includes a permanent web link (no more broken URL's!) where the user can go to see if they have the latest version.
XML stands for eXtensible Markup Language, an configurable extension of HTML, the language used to author web pages. XML permits industries to come up with a set of tags that define information content within a document, not just document structure. For example, in an MSDS, one could surround the address information with <address>...</address> tags or the CAS number with <cas>...</cas> tags. These tags would be invisible to the reader, but any computer reading the document could automatically extract (or insert) this information. That allows the data to be imported/exported to databases, cell phones, internet appliances etc. with no human intervention, and provides superior data access. We strongly support and encourage the development of an MSDS XML standard.
For more about XML, see World Wide Web Consortium (WC3)'s XML recommendations.
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