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|The MSDS FAQ: Introduction|
Either way, a (Material) Safety Data Sheet, (M)SDS, is designed to provide both workers and emergency personnel with the proper procedures for handling or working with a particular substance. (M)SDS's include information such as physical data (melting point, boiling point, flash point etc.), toxicity, health effects, first aid, reactivity, storage, disposal, protective equipment, spill/leak procedures, and more. While (M)SDS's are of particular use if a spill or other accident occurs, they are key to preventing workplace exposure and accidents and should always be consulted before working with a material or developing a new process.
In the US and other countries that use the GHS system, SDS's use a standardized format as well as carefully defined risk phrases, safety phrases, and pictograms to convey their information. These are typically several printed pages longs. In contrast, MSDS's had no required format (they could have been freeform text or haiku as far as OSHA was concerned), no standardized wording, and varied in length, consistency and quality. We have seen them from 1 to 10 pages, with most being 2 to 4 pages.
That said, the Household Products Database by the U.S. National Library of Medicine is a terrific resource for consumers to educate themselves on the hazards of consumer products. For example, use it to select an environmentally-friendly ant killer, to find out who manufacturers a particular product, determine what chemicals are in your shampoo, or figure out what products use xylene!
See also: Manufacturer and employer responsibilities when providing SDSs electronically for more about employer and manufacturer responsibilities.
See this OSHA Brief "Hazard Communication Standard: Safety Data Sheets" for more information about the currently required 16-part GHS format.
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