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Swinging into Action - How a Properly Authored SDS Delivers

Posted by Lorcan Archer

Lorcan Archer is ERA Environmental's Content & Technical Writer.

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Looking beyond the importance of regulations and training exercises, the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) is the document that you turn to when things go wrong at your facility.

The purpose of the document is to provide a summary of information related to the hazards posed by a product, as well as advice on safety precautions. This means that it is the SDS that you reach for when a there is a spill or leak incident, an unintended chemical reaction, or if a fire breaks out. These situations can range across every possibility, but if there’s one document you can turn to – it should be your SDS.

This article will attempt to outline how a properly authored SDS can go a long way to meeting your most pressing needs in an emergency scenario.  

No facility or company wants to go down the path of a major incident, and to confront the human and financial cost that such an incident can cause.  A comprehensively authored SDS will allow this to sort of situation to be nipped in the bud. 

Clarity in Language

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When an emergency incident arises, the need to ensure that the language utilised across your SDS documentation is easily understood is essential.

While the actual headings and contents of an SDS is governed by the regulatory authority (OSHA in the US, or Health Canada in Canada) the actual use of language throughout it remains up to the company to source and use within the documentation. Many companies will by now have made the transition to GHS compliant documentation, but there remains a mixture of document content that is partially based on older MSDS documents, which has been patched together over a number of years.

The GHS, while being a ‘non-binding’ system, nevertheless encourages good practice in the headings and sections that an SDS is divided into. While this may seem simply “part of the furniture” and not of any great importance to the lay person, these headings can be extremely important in an emergency scenario.

Their division into clearly defined ‘sections’ (Hazard Identification, First Aid Measures, Fire-Fighting Measures etc.) allows first responders or staff charged with cleaning up a hazard to quickly and easily identify the section required.

By rapidly progressing to the correct section, and viewing the simple, clipped language, the correct course of action can be rapidly taken.

By complying with GHS guidelines, the SDSs produced by ERA’s authoring solutions deliver both practical immediacy, as well as regulatory adherence.

Visual Accuracy and Standardization

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The practical need to assemble and compose all the elements of your Safety Data Sheet documents can be a considerable task that a company’s EH&S staff must confront. But it often comes bundled with issues such as which graphics and symbols to include – the choice of which can be confusing and well outside your staff’s skillset.

Once again, the GHS has a say here. This standard is primarily about standardizing hazard symbols, so it features a 100% internationally approved set of symbols. It makes sense for any organization authoring SDSs in 2017 to feature these hazard symbols. They cover the usual range of hazards, from toxic, to corrosive, to flammable, and so on.

From a practical point of view, these images allow for a swift interpretation for first responders and for staff that need to interact with hazardous goods.

The additional benefit of including the best possible pictograms, including what hazardous protection should be worn by workers. These tend to be relatively simple pictograms, displaying protective glasses and gloves – but their very simplicity is their strength: allowing for easy comprehension by facility staff working in any culture or company worldwide.

Separate aspects relating to the standardization of visual elements are those elements that specifically relate to transportation. There can be a range of stickers and labels that are often produced alongside SDSs that govern the safety information related to these goods. These can vary considerably, but the GHS provides a good basis for delivering consistent transportation labeling.

At ERA, we offer GHS-standardized consistency throughout all our SDS Authoring and SDS Management solutions. These clear visuals allow for a simple and internationally recognized set of resources that can be relied on in any emergency situation.

A picture speaks a thousand words – in an emergency scenario, they can be essential.

Duty of Care Respected
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Depending on the size of your operation, your documentation will need to keep track of what can range from dozens to thousands of chemical mixtures. Upon creation of a new mixture, the authoring process for the SDS to accompany this mixture will need to be robust and accurate.

In an emergency scenario, both first responders and company staff will not be looking for any surprises. There will need to be clear instructions and measures that can be taken that are based off the exact contents of the barrel, or container, or tank in question.

This is where the devil is in the detail. Should there be a shortfall in accurate chemical information within the SDS, the results can be catastrophic. Without an authoring solution that has correctly weighed and calculated the right hazard precautions, there is the potential for the wrong fire-fighting or clean-up methods being applied, such as applying a water-based fire retardant to a spilled chemical that unintentionally produces hazardous gas. This in turn leads to the possibility of human or major financial cost being brought to bear.

ERA’s SDS Authoring solution utilizes a completely comprehensive and regularly updated Master Chemical List. This is utilized alongside our GHS-compliant authoring solution to ensure that the very latest ratings and regulator recommendations are built into your production process.

In this regard, documents authored with a complete solution can be viewed as fully trustworthy – complete with the hard science and up-to-date regulatory basis they need. 

Right to Know and Audit Scenarios

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In the current regulatory climate, there is more emphasis on a robust health and safety culture than ever before. Regulatory bodies such as OSHA will aggressively pursue those organizations and companies that do not maintain the documents that will be reached for in a crisis situation.

The reasoning behind this is clear. With the right documents on standby, the potential for bodily harm to workers and the general public is much reduced. The ‘right to know’ that underpins much of our public health and safety laws indicates clearly that workers have a right to know what chemicals they may be exposed to in their working routines. This right is partly what drives regulatory bodies to actively visit, audit and test hazardous goods at commercial facilities.

Should an audit or testing scenario uncover inaccurate or outdated safety documentation, such as an inaccurate SDS, then this will be taken seriously as it could both hinder emergency responses and will have undermined the workers’ right to know what substances they are working alongside.

Both these concerns drive the need for companies to ensure a level of accuracy that’s as high as can be possibly achieved in their SDS documents.  Only by actively taking measures to address the above points can a company avoid the kind of punitive action that can have serious consequences.

Conclusion

The sections above outline some of the ways that proper authoring, should the unexpected come to pass, facilitates your SDSs in becoming effective and reliable emergency resources.

It is in the interest of all parties, from employer, to employee, to first responders and regulators that these documents be produced to the highest standard and correctly stored.

Here at ERA, we believe that that a good culture of occupational health and safety goes hand in hand with a robust document authoring process. We’re here to help companies achieve that goal.

For more information on how ERA can help your business achieve a world standard in SDS Authoring (including total GHS compliance) please download the free PDF guide below. Alternatively, you can email us at info@era-ehs.com if you have any questions. 

The Upcoming GHS Transition - Free eBook

Topics: SDS Authoring, GHS