What are they and how should you use them?

Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) documents should be located on each and every farm. How many farms have and maintain up-to-date MSDS? How many folks even understand and know what a MSDS is, what information they contain, who they are meant for and used by, or where to get them?

What are they?

A MSDS is designed to provide both workers and emergency personnel with critical information about a product and the proper procedures for the safe handling or working around a particular hazardous substance. Basically, any potentially hazardous material, such as farm chemicals, cleaners, fertilizers, pesticides, etc. should come with a complete MSDS set. MSDSs include information such as physical data, toxicity, health effects, first aid, reactivity, storage, disposal, necessary protective equipment and spill/leak procedures. These are of particular use if a spill or other accident occurs. Your local emergency medical personnel and fire department, in particular, will want to get as much information as possible on the type, the amount and the location of any hazardous materials that are stored on the farm.

MSDSs vary in length depending on their format, content and font size. We have seen them from one to 10 pages, with most being two to four pages.

Who are MSDSs for?

MSDSs are meant for…

a. Employees who may be occupationally exposed to a hazard at work.

b. Employers who need to know the proper methods for storage, etc.

c. Emergency responders such as fire fighters, hazardous material crews, emergency medical technicians and emergency room personnel.

MSDSs are not meant for consumers. An MSDS reflects the hazards of working with the material in an occupational fashion. For example, an MSDS for paint is not highly pertinent to someone who uses a can of paint once a year, but is extremely important to someone who does this in a confined space 40 hours a week.

What Does an Msds Look Like?

An MSDS is a printed copy of the key information on a potentially hazardous product. The formats tend to vary, but they usually convey the same basic kinds of information. This includes:

Physical data—Melting point, boiling point, flash point, etc.

Toxicity—There are various levels of toxicity, with key words like caution, warning and danger.

Health effects—Health effects will vary based upon age, size, health, sex and general condition of a victim.

First aid—From the basic steps to be taken by the first person on the scene to critical information that can assist an EMT or paramedic.

Reactivity—How does it react to water, heat, fire, etc.

Storage—Proper storage recommendations and procedures will be listed.

Disposal—Always read the disposal instructions for both materials and the materials container.

Necessary protective equipment—Important information for the user and for someone responding to an emergency associated with the product.

Spill/leak procedures—Especially critical for fire and rescue personnel, and for the crew that may need to come in and provide the clean up and disposal tasks.

Where can I get an MSDS?

There are several places you can get them:

1. First, you should be able to get them from the distributor who sold you the material.

2. If you can’t locate them, then contact the manufacturer’s customer service department, found on the label of any product.

3. The Internet has a wide range of resources that can be downloaded and printed.

Where should I keep the MSDSs?

All MSDSs should be punched and filed in a notebook and kept in an easily accessible location that is known by anyone working on the farm. Keep the files current and up to date. Contact your supplier today and ask for copies of all appropriate MSDSs for products located on your farm.

The author is UVM Extension farm safety specialist and maple specialist based in Morrisville, Vt.