Material safety data sheets (MSDSs) are the cornerstone of compliance for a number of OSHA and EPA standards. Yet, as notorious as they are among safety professionals, some argue that MSDSs remain regrettably underutilized.

Maintaining MSDSs is one of five key employer obligations under OSHA's hazard communication standard (HCS) – along with having a written hazard program, keeping a chemical inventory,  properly using labels and training employees. When managed via a good electronic system, MSDS information can be indexed and used to easily create OSHA/GHS/WHMIS compliant labels and exported to produce a comprehensive chemical inventory that's available both electronically and in print if necessary. Furthermore, the data needed to train employees and put together a workplace hazard program flows from the chemical and precautionary information found on the MSDS, making MSDSs one of the single most important pieces of a hazard communication program as they directly affect all five employer responsibilities under hazcom.

When used to their full capacity, MSDSs have the potential to drive compliance and innovation in a wide range of environmental, health and safety areas, including: regulatory reporting, label creation, employee training, chemical/ingredient banning and sustainability. But first, safety professionals should understand the recent important changes to safety data sheet requirements in the United States.