How safe is safe enough? Finding and understanding MSDS



How safe is safe enough? Finding and understanding MSDS

Most people have jobs in which they come into contact with potentially hazardous chemicals. Under the Right to know laws employers must provide employees with a detailed source of information on the chemicals used in the workplace and what safety measures are required. These information sources are called material safety data sheets or MSDS (also known as safety data sheets or SDS).


Companies are not required to list all hazardous chemicals if it is part of their trade secret. Therefore identifying warning signs in other parts of the MSDS sheet is necessary to be sure you know how to use a product safely or if you should use the product at all.


Then once you leave the workplace you are on your own to decipher what products are toxic and how to use them safely. There is no employer supplying you the MSDS information. There is only so much room on the product packaging to list safety information so companies have to be vague and will only list the warnings that are required by the federal hazardous substance act. Locating and being able to understand MSDS on your own is critical in being able to make intelligent decisions on what chemicals to buy, how to use them and what safety measures to take.




How to find MSDS documentation

Most companies have the MSDS sheets for products they sell available through their website for free. If you cannot find them on the company’s website the two websites listed below are good resources for finding MSDS information. You can search by chemical name or manufacturer.



How to read a MSDS sheet

MSDS sheets contain lots of information on:

--  Health Hazards -- Chemical Ingredients -- Control Measures -- Special Handling Procedures 

It is quite thorough and can be confusing if you don’t know what to look for. Also depending how old the MSDS or SDS sheets are they might be laid out slightly different from each other. The information you are looking for may be in different places.  There are four sections we recommend you take a close look at when determining how hazardous a product is:

- Identification (section1)

- Hazard Identification (section 2)

- First Aid Measures (section 4) 

- Disposal Considerations (section 13).

Remember companies do not need to list all of their hazardous chemicals if it is considered part of their trade secret. So the red flags may be listed in the first aid measures or disposal considerations.


Identification –Section 1

This will always be the first section on the MSDS or SDS sheet. It will list:

- Product name 

- Name of manufacturer

- Address of manufacturer

- Emergency phone number of the manufacturer

This is important because if you have a health emergency and need to know a chemical name not listed; you or medical personnel can contact the manufacturer and get the missing data.

Toxic water sealer-1_Identification


Hazard Identification –Section 2

This section will list the hazardous warnings identified by OSHA and give you classifications for the different types of hazards. If a chemical is very hazardous it will be obvious and the hazards will be listed in this section. If you do see warnings in this section be sure to check the exposure controls/personal protection (section 8) so you can handle this product safely.

Toxic water sealer-1_haz


However  if a product is not obviously hazardous OSHA might not deem it hazardous here for basic use, but in the disposal section (section 13) it will say to dispose of as hazardous waste or in the first aid section (section 4) it might have drastic measures to be taken if it is accidentally ingested or eye contact. So be weary and take a moment to look at the other sections if there are not obvious warnings in this section.


First Aid Measures – Section 4

This section will list all of the procedures to take if the product is inhaled, ingested, skin contact or eye contact. Here are examples of a hazardous and a non-hazardous first aid measures. Both advise you to seek medical attention if you feel sick after initial first aid measures are taken. This is a common practice on all MSDS whether they are hazardous or not. Notice the hazardous MSDS also advises to contact poison control in addition to a physician. Could that be a potential red flag?


Toxic water sealer-aid 1

Toxic water sealer-aid 2



MSDS lumberseal- oct09.doc 


Disposal Considerations – Section 13

This section will tell you how to dispose of the product safely. It will warn you about contaminating water sources and environmental factors. This section gets a little more confusing because states differ in their laws regarding waste disposal. If the Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) considers it a hazardous waste then all states will as well. Some states have more restrictions beyond what the RCRA recommends for waste disposal. You might have to contact your local government to find out their tolerance for hazardous waste disposal.


Toxic water sealer-disposal



MSDS lumberseal- oct09.doc

MSDS lumberseal- oct09.doc



Chances are you might find some confusion with MSDS sheets as these documents are not always spelled out so the layman can understand them easily. It is a lot of information to present and companies don’t want to give away critical trade secrets. At the very least check the hazard identification section to see how OSHA classifies the product.

For more information on how to understand MSDS or SDS click here to visit OSHA’s brief on hazard communication standards.


HoneyLove chooses not to use any chemicals that are hazardous to humans, animals or the environment. If you decide to use hazardous chemicals be sure to take all the necessary precautions and dispose of the chemicals is an environmentally conscious way.

The next time you use a potentially hazardous product; be part of the HoneyLove solution and check the MSDS for vital information regarding your safety.

Photo credit: Free Grunge Textures - / Foter /
Photo credit: borispumps / Foter / CC BY-SA

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