The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires manufacturers and importers of chemicals to prepare a Safety Data Sheet for each chemical or substance they make or import. Employers who use these chemicals in their workplaces must keep these SDSs, originally named Material Safety Data Sheets, readily accessible in the workplace by all employees at all times. Storing them in clear plastic sheet protectors in a suitably-sized brightly-colored looseleaf binder is a popular solution.
The SDS details a chemical’s properties, potential hazards, precautions for using and handling, routes of exposure, control measures, first aid and emergency procedures, as well as other pertinent information.
Storing Safety Data Sheets on a computer or CD-ROM, or behind locked doors, can cost valuable time in the event of an emergency.
Step 1: Inventory
The first step in building your SDS binder is to take inventory of all the chemical products and substances in use in your facility and acquire an up-to-date SDS for each one. Conduct your inventory methodically, department by department, including maintenance and housekeeping. Paints, solvents, detergents, sanitizers and other such substances each have their own SDS that must be included.
The only exception is consumer items used in your facility the same way they’d be used in the home. Dishwashing detergent provided for the sink in the employee break room is one such product, as are the small bottles of correction fluid found in many desks.
Be certain to check all storage areas for substances that aren’t currently in use. Your SDS book should cover everything on the premises, whether or not it’s currently in use. Transfer your data to a spreadsheet, recording the common name, chemical name, and manufacturer or importer, and any additional data your company feels is pertinent.
Step 2: Gather Safety Data Sheets
SDSs can easily be obtained from manufacturers, many of which make them available for download from their websites. If you have stocks of a chemical supplied by more than one manufacturer, you must have a separate SDS for each manufacturer.
Your suppliers should provide you with an SDS the first time they deliver a product to you, as well as every time they update it. Establish a procedure with your receiving department that ensures that any SDSs received are sent to your attention.
Step 3: Organize Your SDSs
OSHA has no specific requirement for how to organize SDS binders. If you have only a handful of SDSs, it may be best simply to organize them alphabetically by common name, but the more you have, the more important it is to index them to make it easier to find a particular one in a stressful situation.
- To create your index, sort your spreadsheets into in alphabetical order by product name.
- Assign page numbers to each item on the spreadsheet.
- Sort your hard copy SDSs in the same order as the spreadsheet and write the appropriate page number on each one.
- Slip each SDS into a sheet protector, and add the sorted SDSs to the binder.
Another approach is to create an index entry for each product’s chemical name, as well as the product name, with each entry pointing to the same SDS. Thus, whether one searches for the product name or the chemical name, they’ll find the SDS quickly.
Other Pertinent Information
A good SDS binder has more than just the data sheets. For instance, it can include a section that articulates your firm’s safety hazard communication policy, the person responsible for implementing it, and the scope of that person’s responsibilities with respect to hazard communication. Another supplemental section could include a listing of all the different manufacturers and importers of the substances in your inventory.
When you discontinue using a substance in your facility, remove the SDS from your book and transfer it to your archives. Do not discard SDSs when you retire them, though, as it may be necessary to refer to them in the future.