A Guide To MSDS

A Guide To Your Material Safety Data Sheet


All personnel have the legal right to know the hazards involved when working with chemicals. They also have the responsibility to follow all applicable regulations during and after the use of chemicals. This manual and training have been prepared to outline the basic requirements established by two federal agencies, OSHA and EP A. OSHA regulates how to work safely with chemicals and EPA regulates the use and disposal of these chemicals.

The State of Florida adopted the OSHA and EP A regulations as the "Florida Right to Know" Law (FS Chapter 442: Occupational Safety and Health) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA 40 CFR part 261-268). The regulatory agencies are the Department of Labor and Employment Security-Division of Safety (DLES) and the Department of Environrnental Protection (DEP).


Material Safety Data Sheets MSDS – are chemical information sheets.  They give basic information about a product’s content, potential hazards and physical characteristics as well as providing information necessary to allow the product to be used safely.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200) requires manufacturers or distributors of hazardous materials to assess the physical and health hazards of chemicals or products and provide that information in a MSDS.  The MSDS must be forwarded to the purchaser with the initial shipment of each product free of charge.  MSDS are not required to have a specific format but must contain the same basic information.

OSHA requires that MSDS be available for every chemical used in the workplace for employees to view during their work shift.  MSDS are available through your departmental office, EHS or the EHS web page at http://www.ecu.edu/oehs.

The following example is based upon the OSHA recommended MSDS format (Form #174) and explains each section of the MSDS.  It may be helpful to refer to one of the MSDS in your area as you review this information.


This line will give the name of the product as it is listed on the product label to allow you to easily match the appropriate MSDS to the product.

Section I Manufacturer Information

This section provides the name and address of the manufacturer as well as a telephone number to be used to obtain product information and a telephone number to be used for emergency information.

A date of preparation appears on each sheet to allow the user to be sure they have the most current information.

Section II: Hazardous Ingredients/Identity Information

This section contains:

·        the chemical name of hazardous ingredients or

·        if a mixture, the chemical names of the hazardous ingredients that make up at least 1% or the mixture (0.1% if the ingredient is a carcinogen (cancer causing) agent.)

·        CAS Number: a unique number assigned to chemicals or materials by the Chemical Abstracts Service

·        Synonyms and/or chemical formulas

·        Exposure Limits (if available).  This table indicates the main limits.

Exposure Limits (Sources of safe limits for individual exposure.)

PEL Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Permissible Exposure Limit.

The regulated maximum concentration an employee may safely be exposed to in any 8-hour working day as measured by a time-weighted average.

Ceiling limits (C) indicate an exposure level that may not be exceeded for any length of time during the working day.

STEL or Short Term Exposure Limit indicates the average exposure level that may not be exceeded for a specified, short length of time (normally 15 minutes).

A “Skin” notation indicates that the chemical may be absorbed through the skin.

See the OSHA Air Contaminants Standard 29 CFR 1910.1000 for a more detailed explanation or to view the PELs.

TLV  American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) Threshold Limit Values.

These values are not legal limits but are industry standard.  TLVs are more current than regulatory limits.  They are one source of industry standards used in creation of new regulations.

REL National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Recommended Exposure Limits.

This is a government funded, non-regulatory source of current exposure limit recommendations.  They are one source of industry standards used in creation of new regulations.

Corporate Exposure Limit   A recommended exposure limit based upon information gathered by the manufacturer or distributor.

Section III: Physical/Chemical Characteristics

This section outlines the physical properties of the material. This information may be used to determine conditions that may enhance exposure potential.

Boiling Point: (BP)

Temperature at which liquid changes to vapor state.

Vapor pressure (mm Hg)

As a rule of thumb, higher vapor pressure materials evaporate more quickly.

Vapor density (Air = 1)

The weight of a gas or vapor compared to weight of an equal volume of air. Density greater than 1 indicates it is heavier than air. Vapors heavier than air can flow along or hover just above ground, where they may pose a fire or explosion hazard.

Solubility in Water

The percentage of material that will dissolve in water.

Appearance and Odor/odor threshold

What should the product look like and or smell like.  Often a odor threshold is included indicating the smallest amount of the material that can be detected by the human nose.

Specific Gravity (H20 =1)

The weight of a volume of liquid or solid compared to the weight of an equal volume of water.  Materials with a specific gravity of greater than 1 will sink in water; less than 1 will float.

Melting Point

Temperature at which a solid begins to change to liquid state

Evaporation Rate

(Butyl Acetate =1)

The rate at which a material evaporates when compared to a known material's evaporation rate

Other physical information will be given as appropriate.

Section IV: Fire and Explosion Hazard Data

This section includes information concerning the flammability of the material and information for fighting fires involving the product.

LEL - Lower Explosive Limit or

LFL – Lower Flammability Limit

(Terms are synonymous.)

The minimum concentration (percent by volume) of flammable vapor in air that will allow ignition.  A product’s flammable range is between the LEL and the UEL.

UEL - Upper Explosive Limit

UFL – Upper Flammability Limit (Terms are synonymous.)

The maximum concentration of flammable vapor (percent by volume) in air above which ignition cannot occur. (The mixture above the UEL becomes “too rich” to support combustion.)


The lowest temperature at which a liquid gives off enough vapor to ignite when a source of ignition is present

Autoignition Temperature

The lowest temperature at which a flammable gas-air mixture will ignite spontaneously.

Extinguishing Media

The appropriate fire extinguishing agent(s) for the material.

Fire-fighting Procedures

Appropriate equipment and methods to be used in limiting hazards encountered in fire situations.

Fire or Explosion Hazards

Unusual conditions which may cause or lead to fire or explosions.

Section V: Reactivity Data

This section includes information regarding the stability of the material and special storage or use recommendations.


"Unstable" indicates that a chemical may react violently, decompose spontaneously under normal temperatures, pressures, or mechanical shocks, or rapid decomposition may produce heat, cause fire or explosion. Conditions to avoid are listed in this section.


Indicates chemicals or chemical families that may react violently or unpredictably in contact with the product.  Incompatible chemicals should be separated during storage.

Hazardous Decomposition or Byproducts

Hazardous substances that may be created when the chemical decomposes or burns.

Hazardous Polymerization

Indicates if the product is prone to rapid polymerization causing potential for explosion.  Conditions to avoid are listed in this section.

Section VI: Health Hazard Data

This section indicates the medical signs and symptoms that may be encountered with overexposure to this product or its components. Health hazard information may also distinguish the effects of acute (short term) and chronic (long-term) exposure.

Routes of Entry

·        Inhalation: through the respiratory tract.

·        Ingestion: through the gastrointestinal tract.  (i.e., by eating contaminated foods or by touching the mouth with contaminated fingers.)

·        Absorption: transference through the skin.

·        Injection: direct contact with the blood stream (i.e., through needle stick or glass cut.)

Health Hazards

Identification of target organs or systems that may be adversely affected by overexposure


Substances which are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.  See the carcinogen listing on the EHS web page.

Signs and Symptoms of Exposure

Identification of the outward appearance or feel of overexposure.

Medical conditions generally aggravated by exposure

Medical conditions that may be aggravated by normal exposure or overexposure.

Emergency and First Aid Procedures

Recommended emergency and first aid procedures based on the toxicity of the product, degree of exposure and route of contact.

Section VII: Precautions for Safe Handling and Use

This section provides general information for safe handling and use.  Local regulations must also be taken into consideration in dealing with spills and waste disposal.  Use University guidelines to supplement this material.

Spill or Release Data

Materials and methods to use in a small, moderate or large spill situation.

Waste Disposal Method

Indicates if the product must be disposed of as a hazardous waste. Utilize University guidelines in determining disposal methods and procedures.

Precautions to be taken in Handling and Storage

This section may contain incompatibility information as well as special precautions for use or storage.

Other Precautions

Other hazards or precautions not elsewhere listed.

Section VIII: Control Measures

This section includes general information about appropriate personal protective equipment for handling this material.  Many times, this section is written for large scale use of the material. Consider the amount and use of a material in choosing the right personal protective equipment.  (Contact EHS) for assistance in determining the appropriate personal protective equipment necessary in your situation.)

Respiratory Protection

Indicates the type of respirator recommended.  Some respirators supply air while others filter room air.  Use of a respirator requires a medical exam, training and fit testing.  Contact EHS prior to any respirator use.

Protective Gloves

Use compatible glove materials based upon the chemical used. See glove compatibility charts on the EHS web page or ask the glove supplier or manufacturer for more information.

Eye Protection

Safety glasses or Splash goggles must be ANSI approved for the intended use.  Look for the ANSI imprint on the lens.  Standard prescription glasses are not suitable safety glasses

Protective Clothing

Recommended clothing may not be appropriate for lab use.


Recommendations for general room ventilation and/or point source local exhaust ventilation.

Work/Hygienic Practices

Special recommendations for use.


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