Challenge Accepted: Electronic SDS Management

Electronic SDS Management

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) hazard communication (HazCom) standard has been around since the 1980s, yet it continues to be one of OSHA’s most-cited violations. The adoption of the Globally Harmonized System of Classifying and Labeling Chemicals (GHS) has made an impact on HazCom compliance over the past few years. The GHS contributed a much-needed update to the HazCom standard, modernizing chemical classifications and simplifying label and SDS requirements. This opened the door for electronic SDS management.

The HazCom Standard

OSHA’s HazCom standard (29 CFR, 1910.1020) requires employers whose workers may be exposed to hazardous chemicals to:

  • Develop and maintain a written HazCom plan.
  • Maintain an inventory of the chemicals found at the job site.
  • Ensure all chemical containers in the workplace are properly labeled.
  • Maintain safety data sheets (SDS) and make them available to employees.
  • Train workers on HazCom and the specific chemical hazards they could potentially be exposed to.

For larger job sites where a vast number of chemicals are used, complying with this standard can be challenging (even more so with multiple job sites, laboratories, buildings, or campuses.) Access to the important information (e.g., proper chemical handling, storage, and spill response procedures) found on safety data sheets and container labels is critical to worker safety.

OSHA’s adoption of GHS into the HazCom standard brought necessary changes, including the requirement for chemical manufacturers and distributors to update SDS information. Proper SDS management includes ensuring they are up to date, as this is a critical component of chemical safety.

Ye Olde SDS Management

In days past, a 3-ring binder tucked away in the safety manager’s office or hung on the wall in the corner of the warehouse was standard protocol for SDS management. Chemicals arrived at companies with the corresponding SDS (a.k.a. the material safety data sheet or “MSDS”). Before the GHS update, if the MSDS was missing, the recipient would then have to call the manufacturer and request a copy to be sent by fax or snail mail. SDS were very often missing, outdated, or never written up in the first place.

Fortunately, for many organizations, the outdated hardcopy system is a thing of the past. In recent years, the much easier option of creating and sharing electronic SDS has become more common practice for companies large and small. Most manufacturers allow for easy SDS access and downloads on their websites, to then be effortlessly uploaded into a company’s electronic SDS database. With many chemical inventory management platforms, companies can have the benefit of automatic electronic SDS integration. Alternatively, electronic SDS management can entail company personnel manually uploading information as it becomes available, therein keeping the electronic SDS database updated, as necessary. 

Benefits of Electronic SDS Management

An electronic SDS management system can reduce the amount of time spent tracking and maintaining documents and makes it easy and fast for workers to access important SDS information from a computer or mobile device. In the event of a chemical exposure, access to an SDS is needed for proper treatment. In the event of a chemical spill, an SDS must be referenced to ensure that proper clean-up procedures and relevant personal protective equipment (PPE) are used. If a hazardous chemical was involved in either of these situations, speed would be a critical factor. Electronic SDS can be accessed and downloaded from the database at any time, even without a Wi-Fi connection. An electronic SDS management system also keeps chemical inventories up-to-date in a seamless manner. When SDS hard copies are still required at a job site, having an electronic SDS database means the safety manager already has all the necessary files compiled and ready to print.

Archiving SDS

Under OSHA’s HazCom standard, employers are required to keep SDS 30 years past the end-use date. Preserving outdated SDS in electronic formats satisfies this requirement. The information on old SDS may be called up to assist former employees with health issues that may arise due to prior exposure. An electronic SDS management system can archive this otherwise unused information in an organized manner, without having to commit physical space to store thousands of paper documents or cumbersome binders for many years.

There are many benefits to using an electronic SDS management system. Upgrading to a cloud-based system in today’s digital workplace is a no-brainer. It offers the advantages of quick and easy access to a SDS database and saves time and resources, all while complying with OSHA’s HazCom regulation.

Author Bio

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The SafetyStratus Research Advisory Group (RAG) brings together thought leaders from the global environmental, health, and safety community to promote best practices and provide key insights in the profession and the industries they serve. The Research Advisory Group also advocates, where practical, the intersection of and advances with the use of technology, such as the SafetyStratus enterprise EHS software platform. Group membership consists of representatives from across varied disciplines and market sectors as well as select members of the SafetyStratus team.
The primary objectives of the SafetyStratus RAG partnership are to:

  • Build a strategic partnership between EHS practitioners and the SafetyStratus team.
  • Provide engaging and practical content to the global EHS community.
  • Provide discipline and market feedback specific to SafetyStratus products and services.

While the objectives of the RAG are varied, the primary public-facing outcome will be available through engaging and practical content found on the SafetyStratus resource pages. Various articles, papers, and other valuable resources will be produced and shared as part of an ongoing effort to cultivate a robust community. Ultimately, the SafetyStratus RAG will expand to have a broader reach and provide opportunities for more inclusion by all interested EHS professionals in a collaborative community environment.

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