Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS): Definition & Purpose

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  • 0:03 What Is an MSDS?
  • 1:13 Purpose of an MSDS
  • 2:33 Important MSDS Contents
  • 3:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

In this lesson, you'll learn what a material safety data sheet is, its purpose, what information it contains, and the things you should focus on as a worker.

What Is an MSDS?

As you may know, many of the substances we are surrounded by in our daily lives are not completely safe. Humans use pesticides, herbicides, paints, detergents, shampoos, and many other products that contain various synthetic chemicals. Some of those chemicals are perfectly safe, some of them may or may not be safe, and some have known risks. However, just because something isn't safe in the long term doesn't mean that it's illegal. Very often, these substances are allowed because the risks are still fairly low when used in moderation.

One way that consumers and workers are informed of the risks is by use of material safety data sheets. A material safety data sheet (or MSDS) is a document that provides workers with procedures for safely handling or working with a particular substance. It includes technical information like boiling points, toxicities, reactivities, and various numbers. And also, it includes instructions regarding necessary protective equipment, how to handle spills, first aid suggestions, storage and disposal, and the general health effects. The exact contents and requirements vary by country.

Purpose of an MSDS

There are two main purposes of the material safety data sheets. These are informing workers and aiding emergency services.

The main focus of an MSDS is to safeguard occupational health. It is mostly aimed at workplaces, and it's considered a duty and often a legal requirement to provide workers with such information. Without it, working in the environment could be unsafe and workers might have no idea what to do in an emergency situation.

Workers have the rights to safety and security. Therefore, it is important to provide an MSDS for any substance that they will be in close or regular contact with. In investigations, even the existing MSDS documents for many companies have been found to be missing important information. This can be a dangerous situation, so it's important that the government keeps tabs on such things.

Emergency services also need access to MSDS documents. If a building is on fire, for example, firefighters need to know what chemicals are present in the building, and what their properties are. Therefore it is legally required for a materials safety data sheet to be provided to local and state emergency planning officials. An MSDS can be useful for firefighters, doctors, engineers, occupational hygienists, safety offices, and anyone completing an environmental impact analysis.

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