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Definitions (4)

What is a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)?
When using chemicals, workers have a right to the following information:

  • know what the chemical is
  • where to get advice and information about the chemicals
  • what the hazards and risks are when using it
  • how to be protected from harm that could arise from the risks.

All this information can be found in a MSDS - Material Safety Data Sheet.
The Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 2001 requires employers to provide instruction and training to help employees understand the information on labels and in MSDS, and how to apply this information.

Chemicals in the workplace
Chemicals used in the workplace can be placed into the following three overlapping groups:
• hazardous substances
• dangerous goods
• scheduled poisons.
A chemical can be classified as a hazardous substance and/or a dangerous goods and/or a scheduled poison. Not all hazardous substances are also classified as dangerous goods and so the container will not necessarily have a dangerous goods label. This is because the dangerous goods ‘diamond’ indicates an immediate hazard and not a long term health risk.

  • Hazardous substances are chemicals harmful to health. This includes short term effects (such as poisoning) and long term effects (such as causing cancer).
  • Dangerous goods have an immediate physical risk (such as fire or explosion), or an immediate health risk (such as rapid poisoning).
  • ‘Scheduled poisons’ are classified on the basis of health hazards – this classification is used for chemicals available for domestic use and for pesticides. ‘Poisons’ are listed in a schedule known as the SUSDP (Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Drugs and Poisons). Such domestic chemicals (including items such as cleaners, pesticides and solvents) are usually sold in retail outlets (in consumer packages), but may also be used in workplaces – so workers need to be aware of this labelling.

Key health and safety information is provided on labels, and more detailed information is provided in Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).

What does the law say about providing labels and MSDS in workplaces?

  • Legal obligations are specified in the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 2001 (OHS Regulation).
  • Manufacturers are required to classify chemicals and prepare Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).
  • Importers must ensure that the manufacturer’s responsibilities are met.
  • Suppliers are required to provide labels on containers and MSDS for those chemicals classified as hazardous substances or dangerous goods that they supply to workplaces.
  • Bulk containers, such as tanks, sent to your workplace must have placards that indicate their dangerous goods classification if they contain dangerous goods.
    If chemicals are transferred to other containers, such as by decanting, suitable labelling needs to be maintained, similar to that on the original container unless the chemical is consumed immediately in a process.
  • Employers must ensure that labels are applied to containers and that MSDS are made accessible to workers who may be exposed to the chemicals. All hazardous substances and dangerous goods used in the workplace must be listed on a register together with the relevant MSDS. Employees must have access to this register.
  • Training should ensure that workers who use chemicals can read and understand relevant labels and MSDS.

More details can be found in this WorkCover guide:Reading labels and safety data sheets