New MSDS Format: MSDS Formats Are Changing

by Peter Zaidel


The production and use of chemicals is fundamental to all economies. The global chemical business trades at more than $1.7 trillion per year. In the United States, chemicals are more than a $450 billion business, and exports are greater than $80 billion per year.

Product sourcing is also on the rise, and product formulas are diverging as new compounds are introduced to the market daily. It is your dealership’s responsibility to have a chemical inventory of all regulated compounds on premise as part of your hazard communications program. To answer this need, KPA offers a database of over 70,000 chemical Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for products that are common in dealerships. Our clients can access the database online and from a customized CD.

What if you need to find information on a Material Safety Data Sheet?

With the online MSDS database, your dealership is covered for OSHA’s hazard communications requirement, but what if you actually need to find information on a data sheet? MSDS sheets are published by original manufacturers, and while they conform to content standards and are all in English, there isn’t a standard format. Without a standardized format, getting important information off the sheets is challenging, for example, somewhere on an eight paged MSDS sheet, there might be a line that recommends the use of non-latex gloves while using the product, but you have to find it. And, it will probably be in a different location on a similar product sheet from another company.

To illustrate the problem, here is a quick comparison of MSDS sheets for two window cleaning products, demonstrating the same information, similar chemicals, but very different formats:
sample msds data sheets

Obviously, the current system delivers important information for employee safety, but in a critical situation, it would be more helpful to have a standardized format where a user could quickly find the same information in the same place on all forms.

Moving to a New Classification and Labeling System

The shortcoming of the unstandardized format, combined with the global scope of chemical trade, and growing consumer demand for more product ingredient disclosures, led the United Nations Economic Commission to guide a global standards initiative, called The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). Back in 2006, OSHA published advance notice of proposed rulemaking that it would incorporate changes per the GHS. The new MSDS format is beginning to trickle into online MSDS databases as manufacturers update their information to comply with the new standards. This is expected to be a long process, and OSHA agents are not enforcing the new standards at dealerships, yet (not for a few years).

Basically, this change won’t affect your safety programs very much if you use the KPA MSDS database because the MSDS system is automatically updated as needed. At this point, the basic action item is that your staff should be aware that the MSDS format is changing, and that the goal is for important information to be easier to find.

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