Organizing Your MSDS Library
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Organizing Your Material Safety Data Sheet Library

MSDSopen.JPG (48757 bytes)Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) are produced by chemical manufacturers and must be provided by the company that sells the material. The MSDS is updated each time the material changes. Each manufacturer has its own MSDS for its products.

The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires the practice leadership to maintain an MSDS on file for each hazardous substance on their hazard materials list. Click here for more information on the hazard material inventory.

The MSDSs must be in English (they can be bilingual if necessary) and readily accessible to workers in every work area. Staff members must know how to find and use them. The preferred place to keep your MSDS library is in the employee break area or in a central location in the hospital. OSHA discourages businesses from keeping the MSDS library in the "boss's office;" some staff members may be intimidated by the location, and not use them.

The MSDSs should be filed in a systematic way. It is best to file them alphabetically by the product name instead of by operational area or category - use a three-ring binder (or two) with tabbed alphabetical dividers. This presents less confusion to the staff member; e. g., is bleach filed under disinfectants or under housekeeping supplies? In those instances where a product is known by several names, you can place a piece of paper in the alphabetical file that directs the reader to the look under the specified name given by the manufacturer (e.g., Lasix® - see furosemide) Make sure to cover the filing system and understanding of MSDSs during staff training sessions. The real test of the training's effectiveness is to ask any staff member (try the newest one) to retrieve a specific MSDS quickly.

Brand Names?

The MSDS must be for the exact product and must be from the manufacturer of the current supply. Some practices will buy several different brands of a product (e.g., alcohol), depending on availability or price. In these instances, it is best to keep several MSDSs - one for each brand - in the library, so that whichever brand is purchased, the appropriate information will be available.

When an MSDS is needed, first call the distributor who supplied the product. If the distributor or supplier can't get it for you in a reasonable time, request them from the manufacturer. Often the manufacturer will give a phone number directly on the label. When all else fails, send a letter to the manufacturer at the address on the label (most often, name, city, state and zip code will get the letter delivered or use directory assistance to find the information.) When you request MSDSs in writing, it's not necessary to send the first request by registered mail; if you get no response, try once more by "return receipt requested." Keep copies of the letter and of the post office receipt. This will demonstrate good faith efforts to obtain the MSDSs.     

If you have an MSDS for a product that has not changed, but the company name has changed, simply make a note on the MSDS reflecting the changed company name; there is no need to get new MSDSs each time drug companies merge!

MSDS Directories

There have been several efforts by the distributors and individual companies to produce comprehensive MSDS directories. Although these directories may be used for information purposes, they are not replacements for your customized MSDS library. It is acceptable to photocopy or "extract" a specific MSDS for a product and place it in your MSDS library. Don’t fall into a false sense of security by placing the large directory books on the shelf and assuming that all your products are in there and staff members can find them!

Computer Databases & the Internet

It is acceptable to use an on-line source for obtaining the MSDSs, but you can't rely exclusively on the internet or an on-line service as the library that you expect employees to use for a couple of reasons:

  • 1) No MSDS database has exactly every product you need from each and every manufacturer that you use. There are some products in the clinic that are not obtained from the traditional veterinary vendor so it’s unlikely they will be in one of the veterinary-specific MSDS databases, so just having access to the database of thousands of MSDSs is useless if it doesn't have the one for the product in question.

You certainly don't want to have some MSDSs on a computer database and some others on paper. This will only confuse most staff members and make it more unlikely they will find the one they need.

  • 2) Although reliability has gotten much better over the years, there's still an issue with the belief that your electronic connection to the internet is not something within your control. And there's the issue of each and every staff member being technically and competently able to get on the service and do a proper search in a database of thousands of MSDSs.

The bottom line is that you can't rely on something over which you really don't have control.

However, that doesn’t mean the computer can’t be used to solve the MSDS library challenge! When executed properly, we do believe an IN-HOUSE electronic MSDS library is perfectly acceptable and in many ways, better than the printed pages in the binders.

Many modern hospitals use an "intranet" to communicate with employees, post information and make their policy manuals readily available. In these practices, since all staff communication is via in-house electronic memos and e-mails, the staff has a level of competency with the system that will allow the indexing of the MSDS library so that everyone can find exactly what they need.

MSDSs can be scanned as PDF files and are then organized on a specific page of the in-house intranet. Now, a staff member has a full list of all the product MSDS in the practice without the clutter of thousands of products not used by the practice!

The practice can't rely on external sources as the complete MSDS library when there is no control over the content of those sources or very limited control over access to them; however, an in-house computer source may be just the answer for technologically advances practice.

Click here to go to our links page for a select list of manufacturer's MSDS sites.


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The information on these pages is excerpted from
The Complete Veterinary Practice Regulatory Compliance Manual (5th Edition)  by Philip J. Seibert, Jr., CVT,
Copyright 2003 Philip J. Seibert, Jr., CVT  All Rights Reserved
No part of this publication may be reproduced for distribution without prior permission from the publisher.


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This page was last updated on 01/24/14.

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