Managing and Distributing Chemical Safety Data Sheets Electronically
by Leon Levine, ECOThink Group
Information technology has advanced light years since 1983 when the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard was first adopted. Today, information is accessible on the cloud through smartphones, Ipads, tablets and smart watches. As chemical inventories grow, the challenge for companies is to continuously be managing, printing and sending hundreds or thousands of safety data sheets (SDS). Are alternatives available to sending printed SDSs? Does OSHA allow for managing and distributing chemical safety data sheets electronically? What are the requirements associated with managing and distributing chemical safety data sheets electronically?
The OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) (29 CFR 1910.1200(g)), requires that the chemical manufacturer, distributor, or importer provide SDSs for each hazardous chemical to downstream users to communicate hazard information. SDSs are a critical component of the chemical hazard communication program. Employers and employees rely on the information contained on SDSs to protect themselves from hazardous chemical exposures and to work safely with chemical products. The SDS lists the hazardous ingredients of a product, its physical and chemical characteristics (e.g. flammability, explosive properties), its effect on human health, the chemicals with which it can adversely react, handling precautions, the types of measures that can be used to control exposure, emergency and first aid procedures, and methods to contain a spill. The SDS must be updated as regulatory or safety information changes. Since the HCS became effective, the use and distribution of SDSs have proven to be an effective and efficient way to ensure that employers and employees can obtain necessary information on the hazards associated with exposure to chemicals in the workplace.
An alternative to sending a printed SDS is to utilize an online portal containing your SDSs and allowing downstream users to access them by scanning a UPC or QR code for example, located on the container label. Having workers and managers using their smart phones in the workplace/factory to scan a code on a container to access safety data about that chemical is very convenient. Safety information available at your fingertips through your smart phone could increase safety and minimize accidents. According the PEW Research Center, 77% of adults in the U.S. own a smart phone. Americans are now using their phones for a variety of activities including surfing the Internet, reading a book and watching videos. Chemical manufacturers and distributors (like Fisher Chemical) are already placing QR codes on their containers for users to access the safety data sheets by scanning the code with their smartphones.
OSHA does allow managing and distributing chemical safety data sheets electronically. A letter of interpretation from OSHA provides the following guidance for managing and distributing SDSs electronically. Manufacturers, importers and distributors preferring to use an electronic system for distribution of SDSs must meet the following requirements.
The manufacturer must ensure that the downstream user has agreed to the electronic system in place to access, (“opt-in”).
- The manufacturer cannot require the downstream user to purchase new technology in order to obtain the SDS.
- The manufacturer must ensure that some positive and verifiable form of notification (such as a letter or email) is provided with all the information necessary to access the SDSs.
- The manufacturer must ensure that some positive and verifiable form of notification is provided to ensure that the downstream user is aware when SDSs are updated.
To utilize this approach, downstream users must indicate whether they would like to receive SDSs electronically through e-labeling system and be able to “opt-out” at any time.
Once a downstream user “opts-out” you must provide them a hard-copy of the SDS as part of their next shipment.
If the downstream user elects to receive SDSs electronically, you are required to provide them with information on how to access SDSs and to notify users when SDSs are updated. Also, its important to note that all SDSs must be provided at no cost to the downstream user, regardless of whether they are shipped as hard-copies or provided electronically.
In addition, the use of electronic distribution of SDSs does not eliminate the manufacturer or importer’s requirement under 29 CFR 1910.1200(g)(6)(iv) to provide an SDS (hard-copy) upon request by the distributor or employer.
The purpose of safety data sheets is to provide workers with the right to know the hazards and identities of the chemicals they are exposed in the workplace and the measures they can take to protect themselves. The OSHA Hazard Communication Standard mandates that manufacturers send the SDS their initial shipment, and as soon as a SDS is updated. It is cumbersome to maintain and search large binders of safety data sheets. It may be easier to search for a specific SDS through an online databases or e-labels. Smart phones are able to scan barcodes, QR codes and UPC codes to quickly access chemical safety data. OSHA allows for the use of electronic distribution of SDSs as long as certain requirements are met. We predict that an increasing number of companies will move to managing and distributing chemical safety data sheets electronically.
For more information on complying with the OSHA Hazcom standard or help with developing and managing chemical safety data sheets or other environmental health and safety questions please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.