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Preventing Chemical Accidents:  Understanding MSDS’s & Assessing Chemical Hazards

Factsheet #13

The Problems with MSDSs

MSDSs give guidance on using, storing, and handling substances safely on the job and in emergencies such as fires and spills.  But MSDSs have some problems.  Here’s how Anne Jackson, the corporate safety director for Pepperidge Farm Inc., put it:

“The MSDSs I have to work with at Pepperidge Farm usually fall into one of two categories: those written by attorneys for attorneys and those written by chemical engineers for chemical engineers...The origin of the problem is a lack of focus by OSHA and chemical suppliers on the true purpose of the requirement – protecting employees!”

Hospital Study Focuses on MSDS Problems

The Seattle Area Hospital Council conducted a study of 476 MSDSs to see how accurate they were.  Here’s what they found:

•  53.4% of the MSDSs did not have all the blanks filled in.

•  30% were inconsistent (meaning, they included information which contradicted itself).

•  97.1% did not have all of the required elements.

•  OSHA Permissible Exposure Limits did not appear on 90%.

•  89% did not say whether the chemical was a carcinogen.

Sources: Testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Employment, Safety and Training, Hazard

Communication in the Workplace, March 25, 2004.  Kolp, Paul, et al. Comprehensibility of Material Safety

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