Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)

The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) is a detailed information bulletin prepared by the manufacturer or importer of a chemical that describes the physical and chemical properties, physical and health hazards, routes of exposure, precautions for safe handling and use, emergency and first-aid procedures, and control measures. Information on a MSDS aids in the selection of safe products and helps prepare employers and employees to respond effectively to daily exposure situations as well as to emergency situations. MSDSs are a comprehensive source of information for all types of employers. There may be information on the MSDS that doesn't seem relevant to some school operations, but it is all important.  Schools should concentrate on the information that is applicable to their situation, generally, hazard information and protective measures.

Employee Rights

  1. Your workplace is required to have Material Safety Data Sheets available for every single hazardous chemical or substance you use or encounter as a part of your job.

  2. These must be readily available for employee review at all times you are in the work place!  In other words, they cannot be locked in an office or filing cabinet to which you do not have access.

  3. If you request to see a MSDS for a product you use at work, and your employer cannot show it to you, after one working day you may refuse to work with that product until you are shown the correct MSDS.

  4. If you request your own personal copy of a Material Safety Data Sheet, your employer has 15 working days to provide it.

If you do not know where the MSDSs for your area are kept, find out!  

Employer Responsibilities:  Employers must ensure that each employee has a basic knowledge of how to find information on an MSDS and how to properly make use of that information. Employers also must ensure the following:

Complete and accurate MSDSs are made available during each work shift to employees when they are in their work areas.
Information is provided for each hazardous chemical.

Sections of a MSDS and what information is provided.

Company Information
Hazardous Ingredients
Physical Data
Fire and Explosion Hazard Data
Health Hazard Data
Reactivity (Instability) Data
Spill or Leak Procedures
Special Protection Information
Special Precautions

OSHA specifies the information to be included on a MSDS, but does not prescribe the precise format for a MSDS.  There are several MSDS forms/formats that meet the Hazard Communication Standard requirements and they can be used as is or expanded as needed. The MSDS must be in English and must include at least the following information:

Section I. Chemical Identity

The chemical and common name(s) must be provided for single chemical substances.
An identity on the MSDS must be cross-referenced to the identity found on the label.

Section II. Hazardous Ingredients

For a hazardous chemical mixture that has been tested as a whole to determine its hazards, the chemical and common names of the ingredients that are associated with the hazards, and the common name of the mixture must be listed.
If the chemical is a mixture that has not been tested as a whole, the chemical and common names of all ingredients determined to be health hazards and comprising 1 percent or greater of the composition must be listed.
Chemical and common names of carcinogens must be listed if they are present in the mixture at levels of 0.1 percent or greater.
All components of a mixture that have been determined to present a physical hazard must be listed.
Chemical and common names of all ingredients determined to be health hazards and comprising less than 1 percent (0.1 percent for carcinogens) of the mixture must also be listed if they can still exceed an established Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) or Threshold Limit Value (TLV) or present a health risk to exposed employees in these concentrations.

Section III. Physical and Chemical Characteristics

The physical and chemical characteristics of the hazardous substance must be listed. These include items such as boiling and freezing points, density, vapor pressure, specific gravity, solubility, volatility, and the product's general appearance and odor. These characteristics provide important information for designing safe and healthful work practices.

Section IV. Fire and Explosion Hazard Data

The compound's potential for fire an explosion must be described. Also, the fire hazards of the chemical and the conditions under which it could ignite or explode must be identified. Recommended extinguishing agents and fire-fighting methods must be described.

Section V. Reactivity (Instability) Data

This section presents information about other chemicals and substances with which it reacts. Information on any hazardous decomposition products, such as carbon monoxide, must be included.

Section VI. Health Hazards

The acute and chronic health hazards of the chemical, together with signs and symptoms of exposure, must be listed. In addition, any medical conditions that are aggravated by exposure to the compound, must be included. The specific types of chemical health hazards defined in the standard include carcinogens, corrosives, toxins, irritants, sensitizers, mutagens, teratogens, and effects on target organs (i.e., liver, kidney, nervous system, blood, lungs, mucous membranes, reproductive system, skin, eyes, etc.).
The route of entry section describes the primary pathway by which the chemical enters the body. There are three principal routes of entry: inhalation, skin, and ingestion.
This section of the MSDS supplies the OSHA PEL, the ACGIH TLV, and other exposure levels used or recommended by the chemical manufacturer.
If the compound is listed as a carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) by OSHA, the National Toxicology Program (NTP), or the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), this information must be indicated on the MSDS .

Section VII. Precautions for Safe Handling and Use

The standard requires the preparer to describe the precautions for safe handling and use. These include recommended industrial hygiene practices, precautions to be taken during repair and maintenance of equipment, and procedures for cleaning up spills and leaks. Some manufacturers also use this section to include useful information not specifically required by the standard, such as EPA waste disposal methods and state and local requirements.

Section VIII. Control Measures

The standard requires the preparer of the MSDS to list any generally applicable control measures. These include engineering controls, safe handling procedures, and personal protective equipment. Information is often included on the use of goggles, gloves, body suits, respirators, and face shields.

OSHA Requirements: Employers must maintain a complete and accurate MSDS for each hazardous chemical that is used in the facility. Purchasers are entitled to obtain this information automatically upon purchase of the material. When new and significant information becomes available concerning a product's hazards or ways to protect against the hazards, chemical manufacturers, importers, or distributors must add it to their MSDS within three months and provide it to their customers with the next shipment of the chemical. Employers must have a manufacturer specific MSDS for each hazardous chemical used in the workplace.While MSDSs are not required to be physically attached to a shipment, they must accompany or precede the shipment. When the manufacturer/supplier fails to send a MSDS with a shipment labeled as a hazardous chemical, the employer must obtain one form the chemical manufacturer, importer, or distributor as soon as possible. Similarly, if the MSDS is incomplete or unclear, the employer should contact the manufacturer or importer to get clarification or obtain missing information.  Also an index listing all chemicals 

When an employer is unable to obtain a MSDS from a supplier or manufacturer, he/she should submit a written complaint, with complete background information, to the nearest OSHA area office. OSHA will then call and send a certified letter to the supplier or manufacturer to obtain the needed information. If the supplier or manufacturer still fails to respond within a reasonable time, OSHA will inspect the supplier or manufacturer and take appropriate enforcement action. 

Material Safety Data Sheet Checklist.  If you work in a laboratory or other situation where you create your own chemical solutions or products for use in your workplace, you may need to write your own MSDS for the product(s) you have created. You must ensure that each MSDS you write contains the following information:

Product or chemical identity used on the label.
Manufacturer's name and address
Chemical and common names of each hazardous ingredient.
Name, address, and phone number for hazard and emergency information.
Preparation or revision date.
The hazardous chemical's physical and chemical characteristics, such as vapor pressure and flash point.
Physical hazards, including the potential for fire, explosion, and reactivity/instability.
Known health hazards.
OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL), ACGIH threshold limit value (TLV) or other exposure limits.
Emergency and first-aid procedures.
Whether OSHA, NTP or IARC lists the ingredient as a carcinogen.
Precautions for safe handling and use.
Control measures such as engineering controls, work practices, hygienic practices or personal protective equipment required.
Primary routes of entry.
Procedures for spills, leaks, and clean-up.

Here is a look at a real MSDS. Click here to take the MSDS quiz (do not take if you are doing the entire haz com module)

The Four Stages of an effective hazard communication program are:

Material Safety Data Sheets
Labeling and Marking Systems
Employee Training Sessions
Written Right-to-Know Plan


In Maine, the supervisor, facility manager, and/or the person responsible for the hazard communication program should be contacted with questions, concerns, and required training.