Leveraging Safety Data Sheets for Chemical Safety

Leveraging Safety Data Sheets for Chemical Safety

The importance of utilizing the SDS to strengthen chemical storage and handling procedures.

Using, storing and handling hazardous chemicals safely requires more than finding an empty spot in the warehouse to put them and taking a token glance at the first section of the Safety Data Sheets (SDS). Reviewing five sections of each chemical’s SDS and incorporating the information found in them can make chemical storage and handling procedures safer and more robust. 

Although the primary focus of any hazardous chemical’s SDS is to communicate health and physical hazards as they relate to an employee’s health, they are also a great source of information for drafting and revising safe storage and handling procedures. In fact, section seven of every SDS is dedicated to handling and storage precautions.

Section seven may not always provide the full picture, however. Using the information from it as well as well as information from other sections helps to ensure that hazards are identified so that they can be properly addressed. It can also help to identify special precautions that need to be taken so that certain chemicals don’t mix.

Handling and Storage
(Section Seven)

Section seven provides more than just guidance on how and where to store hazardous materials. Chemical manufacturers are also required to include handling precautions to help planners reduce safety risks.

This is one of the first sections to provide detailed information about chemical incompatibilities and how to avoid interactions during storage and handling. It may list isolation methods or distances that need to be maintained between incompatible materials to reduce risks. 

It may also include reminders to bond and ground containers or to segregate containment areas to avoid unintended mixing of incompatible materials. 

Other specific requirements such as ventilation, shock sensitivity, light sensitivity and temperature limits are also included in this section. General hygiene advice (prohibitions on eating, drinking or smoking around the chemical) will also be noted. 

Adhering to the information found in this section and incorporating it into procedures helps to avoid container corrosion, air emissions, reactions, unintentional releases, fires, explosions and other hazards associated with improper hazardous material storage and handling.

Hazard Identification
(Section Two)

Best known as the place to find pictograms, precautionary statements and many of the other elements required on product labeling, section two identifies a chemical’s health and physical hazards. The warnings that are given affect the safety of personnel who use the product, but they can also provide some initial storage and handling information that can be incorporated into procedures.

For example, if the product is flammable, storage procedures should reflect the need to ground the container and keep it away from hot areas and open flames. Perhaps it even makes sense to have signage or floor markings that designate specific areas where flammables can (or cannot) be located. This may seem like common sense, but in the rush to get things done, it can be easy to overlook this potential hazard unless procedures are well established and communicated.

Labeling elements from section two can also help to reduce the risk of inhalation and other health hazards. Procedures for closing containers are often established to meet environmental requirements, but they also help to prevent inhalation hazards from fugitive air emissions or reduce the risk of leaks and drips that could cause chemical burns or other health issues. 

Accidental Release Measures (Section Six)

When everything in section seven works, section six shouldn’t be necessary. But, even with the most thorough storage and handling procedures, there is still always the potential for spills. Both OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency require facilities to be prepared for spills—
and to train personnel on their role in responding to spills.

For most personnel, responding to spills is a non-routine task, and at first glance, it may not seem like it is related to storage and handling. But many hazardous materials can present greater or different risks when they leave their containers, and it’s important for personnel who routinely handle hazardous chemicals to know how—and why—procedures for handling spills may vary from what they do on a regular basis. 

Review the spill response information in section six to determine if any special procedures may need to be included in response plans. 

Recommendations for planning elements such as PPE, ventilation, removal of ignition sources, evacuations and cleanup methods should align with information documented in facility spill response plans. 

Physical and Chemical Properties (Section Nine)

The information in section nine gives planners a pretty good technical snapshot for developing and reviewing storage and handling procedures. Where other sections provide precautions and recommendations, section nine contains numeric data like flammability ranges and explosive limits, pH, melting and freezing points, vapor density and other specific chemical traits that influence how and where materials can be safely handled. 

Even though similar verbiage is found elsewhere, the information in section nine is quantified. For example, if section two contains a “corrosive” pictogram with accompanying precautionary statements, section nine tells the planner the exact pH. With this information, the planner can take a deeper look at incompatibilities and determine where (and with what) the chemical can be stored. 

Stability and Reactivity
(Section 10)

Section 10 supports the information in section nine by describing the consequences of improperly storing or handling the hazardous chemical. It provides rationales for keeping things segregated or stored in prescribed conditions, especially when it isn’t necessarily convenient to do so.

Reactivity information reinforces the incompatibility information found in section seven so that planners know which materials to segregate from others. 

It’s important to note that most manufacturers don’t provide extensive lists of incompatible materials. Classes or groups of materials, such as “oxidizers” or “flammables,” may be listed instead of an exhaustive list of every possible oxidizer or flammable. 

Chemical stability information describes the storage and other conditions necessary to maintain a chemical’s stability as well as changes that can indicate that the material has become unstable. 

Incorporating SDS Information Nuggets

In addition to providing essential information for the creating procedures, SDSs are also a valuable tool for chemical storage and handling trainings and audits. Because most employees are required to have hazard communication training, they should already have at least a basic understanding of what an SDS is and the type of information it contains.

Chances are fair, though, that they may not be able to list the titles of all 16 sections or describe what each section contains in elaborate detail. Using SDS during storage and handling trainings reinforces hazard communication training and provides a basis for how and why the procedures that have been established for chemical storage and handling will help to keep them safe. 

Information in SDS can also be incorporated into checklists or auditing protocols to help auditors verify that the requirements listed in the procedures will be effective for the safe management of chemicals in the facility.

Establishing any type of procedure takes time. In some workplaces, it can also be difficult to rationalize why things need to be done a certain way, especially if a procedure is new or has recently changed. Utilizing SDS to help planners make informed decisions that will help reduce risks and increase safety when storing and handling hazardous chemicals.  

This article originally appeared in the June 1, 2023 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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