COSHH – Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) – a guide

Outsource Safety LtdSafety newsCOSHH – Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) – a guide


You may have noticed these documents floating in on top of a box of items which arrive at your premises or you may be familiar with them from past risk assessments.  The truth as to why they’re there is that they’re required by law.

They are the information on which any COSHH risk assessment is based and manufacturers and suppliers are bound by law to make the information contained in them available so that we all have the information needed to decide how best to protect ourselves and others from the substances we use.  They’re also useful for comparing a couple of alternative substances and choosing which one is least harmful.

What do I need to know?

One thing which we don’t need to tell you is just how much information is contained in an MSDS – this is where most people say “I must get around to looking at that sometime soon” and nothing much more happens.  The truth is that you only need look for some key phrases and in just a few of the 16 sections which make up an MSDS.

Just the facts please!

Think about what questions you need answering;

  1. What are the dangers with using this substance?
  2. What protection do I need to use?
  3. What if an accident occurs, what would my actions be?
  4. What if someone spills this substance, what would I need to do?

It’s all in there…somewhere

Check through the sections, using 1-4 above, this is where you need to look;

  • Hazards identification – is it corrosive, irritant, harmful?
  • Exposure controls / personal protection – what PPE do I need to specify?
  • First aid measures – eye contact, skin contact and so on, its all there.
  • Handling and storage and disposal considerations – check these two sections for the answers you need.

I think I might give it a go!

Good for you!  Bear in mind that your first one will be the hardest.  Once you’ve found your feet you’ll be reviewing them in no time.

But what do I do with all this information?

You need to create a COSHH risk assessment.  This need not be a lengthy document and it can be simply a part of the risk assessment you complete for a whole task.  For example, if you are being exposed to solvent based paints as part of a job which involves painting there’s nothing wrong with completing an assessment which accounts for the whole process – manual handling, fire, sips and trips and so on – COSHH assessment is just a component part.  In fact, it might be better way to approach it.

Never mind the quality, feel the width!

Avoid the temptation to bulk out assessments, they won’t be read by the people who use the substance.  Keep you risk assessment factual and short.

I could do this but I just don’t have the time and resources

That’s why we’re here!  If you need some help over the telephone just call us, there’s no charge.  If you would like your consultant to visit and guide you through some of the more difficult ones please let us know as this can also be arranged.  Alternatively, if you’d like a specialist from C&G to review everything for you and complete all of your risk assessments for a fixed cost we’d be happy to visit and quote you, just call us on 01453 800100 or visit our contact us page.

Right, I’ve finished.  Now what do I do with all these MSDS Sheets?

Keep them on file.  Every year or two its good to update them but their most important use is for when you have questions again – this could be when a work process changes.  Plus, make sure they’re to hand in case of an accident so you can send a copy with the injured party to inform the medical staff of what exactly has been injected, ingested or inhaled.

Any more questions?

If you have unanswered questions please call one of our safety consultants.  We’re here to help on 01453 800100.

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