Safety Data Sheets

July 12, 2022

OSHA Safety Data Sheets: A Guide for Employers and Employees

Healthcare providers work tirelessly to safeguard the health and safety of their patients and the communities around them. However, threats to healthcare workers’ own safety could impede their ability to provide the best care possible to patients. A safer healthcare workplace could improve not only healthcare worker well-being, but staff productivity and even patient outcomes.

Communication and education are critical aspects of a safety-based culture in healthcare settings, especially when employees manage hazardous chemicals. To ensure healthcare organizations maintain the safest work environments possible, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) established the Hazard Communication Standard, which requires all employers to communicate hazardous chemical information to their employees with the help of Safety Data Sheets (SDSs).

Stericycle has answered some frequently asked questions about SDSs to help healthcare employers and providers create a safer and more productive workplace for all.  

Safety Data Sheet Basics

What Is a Safety Data Sheet (SDS)?

A Safety Data Sheet, previously known as a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), communicates comprehensive information about a single hazardous chemical. The contents include its properties along with physical, health, and environmental hazards. An SDS also outlines any protective measures or safety precautions that employees should follow when handling, storing, or transporting the chemical. In addition, they contain important first aid information in case of an accidental exposure to the hazardous chemical.

According to OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard, a chemical manufacturer or importer must provide SDSs to the distributer or employer prior to or at the time of shipment of the hazardous chemical. In turn, leaders must ensure their employees can quickly access the most up-to-date SDSs for materials used and stored in their workplace.

OSHA requires that employers maintain copies of SDSs for each chemical in the workplace classified as hazardous. Although some hazardous chemicals, such as household cleaning products, do not require the employer to maintain an SDS if used for the same purpose, duration, and frequency as a consumer. Cosmetics are also exempt from the Hazard Communication Standard requirements if they are intended for personal consumption by employees while in the workplace.

What Is the OSHA Hazardous Communication Standard?

OSHA’s Hazardous Communication Standard (HCS), commonly referred to as “HazCom,” is a regulation designed to help organizations that use hazardous chemicals keep their staff safe through effective communication and protective measures. Essential requirements of the HCS for employers include:

  1. Maintaining a master list of hazardous chemicals on-site
  2. Creating a written hazard communication program
  3. Properly labeling hazardous chemicals
  4. Making Safety Data Sheets readily accessible to employees
  5. Providing comprehensive staff training

Organizations that follow these five steps are properly positioned to maintain safe work environments and remain compliant with federal requirements.

For Employers

What Are an Employer’s Safety Data Sheet Responsibilities?

The HCS requires employers to keep an updated Safety Data Sheet for every hazardous chemical used or stored in the facility, regardless of the frequency or amount of chemical used. Administrators can request additional copies of SDSs from chemical manufacturers at any time.

Employers shall ensure that SDSs are readily accessible during each work shift to employees when they are in their work area(s). Leaders can keep these documents in a binder or store them electronically. However, if an organization chooses to store SDSs electronically, it must have another electronic or physical backup available in case of a power outage or other emergency. In addition, if the SDSs are stored electronically then employees must be able to access them immediately without any barriers.

Do Employers Have to Keep All SDSs They Receive? Can Old SDSs Be Discarded?

Employers need to maintain an updated SDS for hazardous chemicals used or stored in the workplace and can discard SDSs for any hazardous chemical no longer at the facility. However, a record of hazardous chemicals no longer in use does need to be maintained for 30 years and keeping the SDSs is one way to meet that requirement.  

Leaders should regularly check with chemical manufacturers to ensure they have the most up-to-date SDSs. Suppliers are required to update SDSs within three months of any new changes to a chemical.

How Can Employers Ensure Compliance with OSHA’s SDS Requirements?

To maintain compliance with federal safety standards, organizations must first identify all hazardous chemicals stored and used on-site. This may involve conducting a room-by-room inventory and listing all the chemicals present.

Once an organization has a detailed list of hazardous chemicals, administrators should confirm that the required SDSs are available and accessible to all staff members. Organizations may want to designate a specific person(s) responsible for obtaining and maintaining SDSs. This person could also be responsible for communicating SDS updates and other new information to staff.

For Employees:

When Should Employees Use SDSs?

Employees should consult SDSs prior to using a hazardous chemical, especially if using a chemical for the first time. In healthcare settings, providers should review SDSs before working in a lab, using anesthesia and some disinfectants, and other situations that involve hazardous chemicals.

How Should Employees Read and Interpret SDSs?

An SDS is divided into 16 sections and, if written correctly, should be simple and easy-to-read. The first three sections describe the chemical’s basic properties, uses, and hazards. Sections 4-8 describe how to respond to certain situations involving the chemical, such as a fire, spills, or staff exposure. The other sections of the SDS outline other chemical properties, environmental risks, chemical storage and transportation guidance, and more. Employees should carefully read all sections in an SDS before chemical use.

Are Employees Required to Undergo Chemical Safety Training?

Yes, OSHA’s HCS requires employees who work with hazardous chemicals to undergo comprehensive chemical safety training before interacting with the material to learn how to protect themselves and others.

Chemical safety training should extend beyond what is outlined in the SDS. Proper education describes the dangers associated with the chemicals in the work area, what can be done to minimize risk, how to respond to a spill, and how this work relates to the Hazard Communication Standard as a whole. Employees should have the opportunity to ask clarifying questions and even work with the chemical under supervision.

Proper SDS maintenance and training not only ensures compliance with OSHA regulations but creates a safer healthcare workplace that protects the well-being of employees, patients, and communities. Learn more about how Stericycle can help your organization navigate OSHA standards. 

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