What is a Material Safety Data Sheet?

A material safety data sheet (MSDS) is a document containing information about specific chemical substances and the potential hazards of a product. It details the chemicals it contains, the possible hazards (health, fire, reactivity, and environmental), and how to safely handle, store, and dispose of it.

Organisations that work with chemicals or products containing any amount of hazardous materials must pay close attention to the MSDS. This includes if you supply, handle, or use any hazardous items. It ensures employees are familiar with their potentially harmful substances, how to handle them, and stay safe.

MSDS and waste management are closely linked as the sheet includes information about safe disposal. It’s important for all industries but especially healthcare, research laboratories, and automotive sectors. Learn more about what a material safety data sheet is and how to use it to keep your business safe.

man writing on sheet of paper.

What information does a material 
safety data sheet contain?

The purpose of a material safety data sheet is to protect people from exposure to chemical and hazardous materials. An MSDS aims to keep anyone who uses the product safe by detailing information about the specific chemical substances the product contains, and how to safely handle, store, and dispose of it.

Therefore, the information an MSDS should contain includes the:

  • Material’s chemical constituents and composition – molecular and chemical properties
  • Hazardous ingredients
  • Concentration of the chemicals
  • Physical data
  • Stability and reactivity
  • Biological information – how it may affect humans
  • Safe storage procedures
  • Proper handling steps – if safety equipment/PPE is required
  • Processes if it’s spilt or the material is ingested, gets in the eyes or on the skin
  • Proper waste disposal methods

All the information an MSDS contains helps employers carry out a risk assessment before using such products. This is required by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) when using chemicals in the workplace.

What types of waste 
need an MSDS?

Any chemical waste and types of hazardous waste will likely come with a material safety data sheet (MSDS). This mainly covers chemical waste and a variety of medical waste – such as infectious waste, old medication, and more. The MSDS with this waste should detail how to store and dispose of it safely.

Some of the main types of waste that have an MSDS include:

  • Clinical waste – medicines and vials that may be hazardous
  • Pharmaceutical waste – old medication and prescription drugs
  • Oil waste – including waste motor oil and engine oil types
  • Batteries – old AA batteries to car batteries may contain hazardous materials
  • WEEE waste – certain electrical products that contain hazardous materials
chemical poured into lab container.

Who provides 
MSDS certificates?

The manufacturer of a product or supplier of a chemical should provide the MSDS with the product. It’s best to get in touch directly with the manufacturer if you can’t find a material safety data sheet with a product that you think should have one. The manufacturer should provide either a physical or MSDS PDF.

How to read 

The MSDS format typically has 16 sections. However, some manufacturers and suppliers add extra information and the format of an MSDS can vary between countries. Generally, to read an MSDS, you should find the following sections that provide all the relevant information you need to use, store, and dispose of a product safely:

  1. Product and company identification – the product name, code, catalogue number, manufacturer/supplier name and contact number.
  2. Hazards identification – substance/mixture classification, potential health effects, and information about other hazards.
  3. Composition – information on the ingredients including hazardous chemical components, by-products, and impurities.
  4. First aid measures – actions to take if exposed to hazardous material, such as the symptoms and effects, and any immediate medical attention/special treatment.
  5. Firefighting measures – fire hazards of the product and the process to put it out, for help using the right type of fire extinguisher.
  6. Accidental release measures – how to respond to a spill or release, environmental precautions, containment and clean-up methods and materials.
  7. Handling and storage – how to safely store and handle the product.
  8. Exposure controls and personal protection – control and exposure guidelines, details of any required PPE.
  9. Physical and chemical properties – details about the basic physical and chemical properties of the product.
  10. Stability and reactivity – information about any conditions where the material could be unstable and cause a reaction.
  11. Toxicological information – toxicity details of the ingredients or product as a whole.
  12. Ecological information – information about the environmental impact of the material if released (on soil, water, wildlife etc.).
  13. Disposal considerations – waste treatment methods and disposal information.
  14. Transport information – details about precautions during shipping, an identification number, and environmental hazards for those shipping the material.
  15. Regulatory information – health, safety, and regulation information specific to the product to ensure compliance.
  16. Other information – any supplementary details important for the safe use of the product not covered in the sections above.

Why are material safety data sheets 
important for waste management?

An important purpose of a material safety data sheet is to protect the environment, as well as keeping employees safe when handling hazardous materials. Every MSDS should include information about the disposal considerations, and the ecological and environmental impact of the product. These are essential for managing the waste disposal of the product properly.

You’ll need to arrange commercial waste collection for any waste you produce that comes with an MSDS as a business. Professional waste management companies such as Business Waste can use the MSDS and advise on the appropriate measures to store, remove, and dispose of such waste in a safe, legal, and environmentally friendly way.

Speak to our friendly and expert team for help with any MSDS and waste your business produces – contact us online or call 0800 211 8390. We can answer any questions you may have and help arrange commercial waste collection to dispose of even the trickiest waste types efficiently.

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