In today’s day and age, we believe that no one should be fined by OSHA for a simple paperwork problem, and today I want to discuss 3 key strategies that will save you time and heart ache while compiling your required Safety Data Sheets.
Step #1 Understand What Chemicals are required in your SDS Binder
Before you get started, it’s a good idea to educate yourself on the requirements of OSHA’s Hazard Communications standard. Not everything in your workplace is going to require an SDS, so let’s knock what we can off the list.
Non Hazardous Chemicals Exemption
OSHA only requires Safety Data Sheets for hazardous chemicals, this actually ends up excluding a bunch of products that you might otherwise waste your time on. Some common products which are typically non-hazardous include oils & greases, and many cleaning chemicals. If you are unsure, take a closer look at the back of the product and look for keywords such as “Warning”, “Danger”, or “Caution”. These keywords typically indicate that the chemical is indeed hazardous.
Consumer Product Exemption
OSHA provides another exemption for consumer grade products. This exemption is not as straightforward, so it’s important to understand the caveats. If you go into the kitchen and check under the sink you will probably find some hazardous chemicals. If you are using those chemicals just like you would at home, and at the same frequency then you will not need to include them on your hazardous chemical list. This is typically going to exempt a bunch of your office style products like White out, dishwashing detergent, whiteboard cleaner, etc. You need to be careful with this exemption though, because while you might only use the glass cleaner occasionally, if you have janitorial staff whose job it is to clean all of the windows, then that chemical will still need to be on your list.
Commonly missed hazardous chemicals
Finally, I wanted to go over some items that oftentimes get missed when you’re compiling your list of hazardous chemicals. Most people have no problem identifying aerosols bottled liquids, but there are a couple other categories that you need to be aware of.
Make sure any compressed gasses you have have been identified and added to your list, this includes welding gases, propane, and oxygen. Make sure you identify and catalog the different gas mixes you have on site. SDS’s are usually easy to come by for these products.
Another overlooked category for your hazardous chemical list, are consumables that release hazardous chemicals when used. Welding rods, abrasive disks, solder, and flux are the most common forms of hazardous consumables, so be sure to add those to your list as well.
Step #2 Collect the appropriate information
When walking around your facility identifying hazardous chemicals there are a few pieces of vital information you will want to collect to make your life much easier when it comes to locating the appropriate safety data sheets.
To get started, we need to differentiate between a product’s “Brand Name” and the actual manufacturer name. Understanding the difference can save you a lot of time when you search for the SDS later. A brand name like “Loctite” generally appears on the front of the products label, but when you turn a product around and look at the smaller print, you will typically see a different company name and address, and this is what you want to note as the products manufacturer. In this case the “Loctite” brand is actually manufactured by the Henkel Corporation.
Once you have identified the manufacturer, now you can turn that product back over and capture the product’s name. Be sure to also include any Brand Names to help you locate the SDS. For products with variations, such as paints or fragranced products, be sure to capture
those details as well, because manufacturers will often have separate SDS’s for each color or fragrance, or variation.
One of the most important pieces of information you can collect is the product’s part number or id. This is typically a combination of letters and numbers and is oftentimes found near the manufacturers address on the back of the label. Collecting this piece of information is vital to improve the speed and accuracy of your SDS search.
If you have the means, it can also be a real time saver to snap a photo of each chemical. This will allow you to compare the image with those located on sales pages, and it could save you a trip out to the flammable locker, if you miss an important detail during your inventory.
Step #3 Locate the correct document
Now that we know what products are going to require an SDS, and have collected the relevant information about each chemical, we need to go out and find the correct documents. It would be nice if there was some sort of national repository of all this data, but unfortunately, that is just not the case. OSHA sets the requirement, and leaves execution up to the individual chemical manufacturers and suppliers.
This also brings up an important point. Safety Data Sheets are chemical and manufacturer specific. This means that both the product name and manufacturer name need to match what’s on your product label. If you have a bottle of acetone, you can’t simply provide your employees with another manufacturers SDS’s, you need to find the SDS specific to the manufacturer that you have purchased the chemical from.
Start with the Manufacturer
The best place to start will be with some simple Google searches. SDS’s can be found in all kinds of places on the internet, but to get accurate documentation you should prioritize the chemical manufacturers website.
In the case of our loctite product, we are going to first search for an online SDS database from the manufacturer which is “henkel corporation”. Open up google and search for the manufacturers name and “SDS”. For large manufacturers this will typically bring up their SDS library.
Manufacturers SDS libraries usually fall into a few categories.
- Public Searchable Databases
- Private Databases
- Integrated Product Listings
- SDS Request Forms
Public Searchable Databases
Large companies will sometimes provide document databases, allowing you to punch in the product ID or product name and search for results. How helpful these databases are varies by manufacturer, and sometimes they can cause more grief than they are worth. When searching by product name, be sure to try a few variations and see if you can get document hits with partial names. Product ID’s are usually the best way to find correct documents, but if your product is older (and possibly discontinued) they may have purged the entire database.
Some companies will require a login to access their SDS document library, and getting that login is going to require some work on your side. Typically, these companies are going to want to match the details you provide with their sales database. You may need to get in touch with your purchasing department to get a PO number or customer number to be approved for an account.
Integrated Product Listings
On more consumer-facing product brands, the SDS documents will sometimes be integrated into the product listings on the website. This is generally the easiest way to locate and download the appropriate safety data sheet. Simply search the website for the product, and find the SDS download link of the product page.
SDS Request Forms
Some companies will have no publicly available SDS documents, instead providing you a request form that sends an email to someone in the company. Unfortunately, a large number of these requests go unanswered, so if you do request an SDS in this manner, make sure that you put a note on your calendar to follow up with the request, that way you can call and harass them later.
Manufacturer out of businesses?
During your initial search for the manufacturer of a chemical, it may become evident that the company no longer exists. In these cases, you may need to do a little digging to determine if another company acquired the original. Press releases are typically written when acquisitions like these happen, so a quick google search for “[Company name] acquired by” can get you on the right track.
Magic Google Search Queries
If you have struck out attempting to get the SDS from the manufacturer, you can turn to some advanced search techniques using advanced google search operators.
99% of all safety data sheets are in PDF format, with that knowledge we can use the special “filetype” operator to search for only PDF’s that might be our SDS. In google start your search with the following term: filetype:pdf then append product information likely to appear in that SDS, like the product name, or id, and the manufacturer name CRC 02004, finally add the term we are sure is going to appear in the document, and put it in quotes “safety data sheet”
This results in the following Google search: filetype:pdf CRC 02004 “safety data sheet”
Using this strategy, and modifying it as necessary can help you find safety data sheets stored by retailers, other companies, and even the manufacturer themselves. If you get a bunch of results be sure to check the revision dates and use the most recent document you can find.
Now that you understand what products and chemicals need an SDS, what data to collect from the product labels, and how to locate the correct document, you are well on your way to building an accurate hazardous chemical inventory and SDS binder.
Doing this properly can take a lot of time, and dealing with paperwork should never get in the way of managing employee safety. If you would like to take your time back and supercharge your hazard communications program, you really should take a look at our company Data Sheet Solutions.
Our clients inventory their chemicals by simply scanning the barcodes with their phone, instantly capturing the required information, and transmitting those details to our SDS fulfillment center, who do all the legwork to find and update your SDS library.
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