Episode 12 – Hazard Communication and Safety Data Sheets 


Toolbox Topic: Hazcom and SDS

Working with chemicals can be a potentially dangerous activity. In today’s episode, we will discuss Safety Data Sheets (SDS), the Hazard Communication Standard, and some ways you can keep yourself safe when exposed to chemicals at work.



Let’s look at highlights from the OSHA standard 1910.1200(b)(1). All employers to provide information to their employees about the hazardous chemicals to which they are exposed by means of a hazard communication program, labels and other forms of warning, safety data sheets, and information and training. https://www.osha.gov/hazcom

Featured Image for WordPress HAZCOM SDS 2

Featured Image for WordPress HAZCOM SDS 2In layman’s terms, Hazcom provides employees with information on the potential dangers of chemicals. Safety data sheets are one of the primary ways to communicate those dangers. They provide safety information for the manufacture, storage, use, and disposal of chemicals.


The modern Safety Data Sheet took thousands of years to develop. Before we had SDS, we had MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets), and a hundred years before that, we had Chemical Data Sheets. But let’s go all the way back to the beginning.


Early Humans

Before written languages, early civilizations passed on information verbally. Through trial and error, they discovered not only potential dangers but how to prepare, apply, and store medicines and dyes.

The Egyptians were the first to leave written records some 4000 years ago. Hieroglyphics on walls of tombs and Papyrus records show descriptions of pharmaceuticals, which included:

  • sources
  • names
  • preparation
  • application
  • warnings
  • Storage procedures.

A few hundred years later, the Sumerians would store such information on clay tablets, using the world’s first written language. They added much to the Egyptian’s body of knowledge, specifically in dyes.

The Greeks would continue this work 1000 years later. Through observation and experimentation, they would document natural chemicals common for daily use, new drugs, dyes, bleaches, and other materials.


From The Dark Ages to the Invention of the Printing Press

During the Dark Ages, monasteries of Europe stored much of the work of the previous centuries.

During their great renaissance (the 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries), the Islamic nations preserved and added to much of the knowledge of the Near East, Greece and Rome.

Near the end of the fourteenth century, much of this knowledge appeared in the southern parts of Italy and France, which in part led to the European Renaissance.

Up to this point in history, information was handwritten, and units of measure varied, restricting the widespread distribution of this type of knowledge. Standardized units of measure and the invention of the printing press would change that.


The Nineteenth Century up to Modern Times

In the nineteenth century, Manufacturers started supplying their customers with Chemical Data Sheets, which included safety precautions, emergency procedures, and first aid information. By the late 1950’s they were in widespread use. They came in many forms. Some were simply single sheets; others were much more detailed.

The American government published its first “Material Safety Data Sheet” in 1968. The MSDS form used existing formats produced by chemical companies, State regulations, and associations.

Today the GHS (Global Harmonization Standard) has made MSDS Material Safety Data Sheets simply SDS or Safety Data Sheets. Along with the name change, the newly required format includes 16 specific sections. The standard was phased in over three years from 2013 to 2016.



According to the CDC, from 1999-2008, around 58,000 chemical incidents were reported resulting in approximately 15,000 injuries and 354 deaths. The highest category of injured persons included employees at 49%. That group also accounted for 44% of the fatalities.

The most frequent health effects experienced include:

  • respiratory irritation (7,443)
  • dizziness or central nervous system problems (3,186)
  • Headache (3,167)

The three chemicals associated with the most significant number of injuries were:

  • carbon monoxide (2,364)
  • ammonia (1,153)
  • chlorine (763)


Safety Tips for Hazard Communication and Safety Data Sheets (SDS)

Tip #1 Safety Data Sheets (SDS) Access and Updates

Know where to access Safety Data Sheets. Depending, your company may keep them in a 3-ring binder, online, or use a computer system. If you keep them in a binder, remember to update them often. The simplest solution is to request a new SDS every time you purchase a chemical product. This method will ensure you have an SDS for each chemical and that they are up to date. Lastly, always familiarize yourself with the SDS before working with a chemical. Also, become familiar with the SDS format so you can locate the information you need quickly.


Tip#2 Labels

If a chemical is transferred from its primary container to a different container, it must be labeled. Labels must include the product, hazard warnings, the manufacturer, first aid information, and the chemical ingredients. If you transfer chemicals to smaller containers such as spray bottles, label the containers with the chemical’s name and hazard warnings (such as flammable, toxic, or irritant). Why is this important? If someone is injured while using a chemical and needs medical attention, the doctor or nurse must know the specific chemical to understand how to treat the injured worker.


TIP# 3 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Avoid contact with skin and eyes by using the appropriate PPE. When utilizing gloves, make sure you have the correct type required. Specific chemicals may require special gloves. Wearing the wrong gloves could mean chemical burns or worse. You can find information on PPE in the SDS; look to section 8 titled Exposure Controls / Personal Protection.


TIP # 4 Storage

Store all chemicals according to the manufacturer’s requirements. Refer to section 7 of the SDS, “Handling and Storage,” for specifics on the chemical you are working with.


TIP #5 Disposal

Never dispose of excess chemicals down a drain or in a trash can. Section 13 of the SDS covers “Disposal Considerations.”

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