A good system for chemical management begins with a complete inventory of the laboratory's chemicals and a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) collection for those materials. A little more than 18 months ago, an entirely preventable tragedy occurred when a UCLA research assistant was burned over 43 percent of her body and died 18 days later in a hospital burn unit. While using a plastic syringe to extract a small amount of tert butyllithium, a chemical compound that ignites instantly when exposed to air, she was engulfed in a flash fire when the syringe came apart in her hands. The accident was attributed to poor technique, improper method, poor training and a lack of supervision. A quick reading of the compound's Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) might have prevented this terrible loss.

The purpose of the MSDS is to inform chemical users of the potential hazards encountered with a chemical's use. Both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have published regulations dealing with MSDSs. However, most chemical products packaged for consumers and general household uses are exempt from these requirements.

Lab Manager Magazine recently surveyed its readers on their challenges involved with maintaining MSDSs and chemical inventory management and different approaches that streamline the associated workflows. If you make the effort to get to know the layout and information MSDSs contain, they can provide valuable information and be a reliable asset in times of need.

The average R&D laboratory typically has thousands of materials on site and each one requires a MSDS. In addition, those MSDSs are frequently updated by the supplier, meaning that the laboratory manager must keep track of not only where each MSDS is and which MSDS need updating, but also any new MSDSs that need to be attached to new chemicals being ordered by the lab. Keeping up with those changes can be a complex and time-consuming task. There are five major challenges that need to be overcome to ensure compliant, accurate, real-time MSDS data management:

1.  Maintain an on-going process to obtain, update, review, and archive MSDSs.
2.  Attach the correct MSDS to the applicable chemical inventory.
3.  Identify and track different MSDSs for different SKUs for different size containers of the same chemical.
4.  Eliminate duplicate work across locations.
5.  Facilitate chemical safety compliance.

To address these challenges, many companies utilize an online MSDS management system. MSDS management provider, 3E Company, and its partner chemical inventory management solutions provider, ChemSW, are the most frequently used solutions by far for combined MSDS management and chemical inventory needs. This is due to their ability to address the challenges identified above, while also offering users access to accurate and compliant MSDS documents much more efficiently, any time and anywhere.

With 445 completed surveys, here are the respondents' responses.

How many Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) are being tracked at your site?

More than 50,000 2%
25,000 to 50,000 1%
10,000 to 25,000 4%
5,000 to 10,000 9%
2,000 to 5,000 20%
Fewer than 2,000 64%

 

How many man-hours each year are currently required for the management of MSDSs?

More than 500 man-hours 5%
200 to 500 man-hours 6%
100 to 200 man-hours 9%
50 to 100 man-hours 16%
20 to 50 man-hours 33%
Fewer than 20 man-hours 27%
Other 2%

 

How would you rate your level of compliance with MSDS/Hazard Communication compliance
on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being most compliant:

1 - Least compliant 1%
2 5%
3 26%
4 40%
5 - Most compliant   27%

 

How does your site manage MSDSs?

Spreadsheet 14%
Printed Hard-bound Hardcopies 44%
Manual upload of MSDS files 18%
MSDS Management Software 10%
MSDS Management Service 5%
Not Managing MSDSs 2%
Don’t Know 1%
Other 5%

 

If you use a commercial MSDS Management solution, how is the solution accessed?

Web-based 38%
Standalone 2%
Client/server 10%
Don’t know 10%
Other 4%
Don't use a commercial solution 35%

 

If you use a commercial solution, which category would best describe it?

MSDS Management system, such as 3E Online-MSDS, Actio, Enviro MSDS, IHS (Dolphin), Safetec, Sitehawk, MSDSpro, MSDS Online, etc.? 79%
Lab/Inventory Management Tool, such as ChemSW CISPro or Logical Technology, Inc   12%
EMIS (Environmental Management System): Process Map or Enviance   10%

 

Are other systems used elsewhere in the company, outside the lab?

MSDS Management system, such as 3E Online-MSDS, Actio, Enviro MSDS, IHS (Dolphin), Safetec, Sitehawk, MSDSpro, MSDS Online, etc.? 8%
Lab/Inventory Management Tool, such as ChemSW CISPro or Logical Technology, Inc 4%
EMIS (Environmental Management System): Process Map or Enviance 2%
No other systems used elsewhere in the company 86%

 

What is the primary reason for purchasing a MSDS Management Solution for your lab?

Upgrading existing MSDS solution   20%
Addition to existing systems, increase capability   4%
Setting up a new lab   7%
Centralized data repositories   5%
Infrastructure for capturing, accessing and sharing MSDS information   6%
Enabling better user access to MSDS   23%
Streamlined regulatory compliance   7%
Workflow coordination across geographic and business boundaries   1%
Web-based access   8%
Access to up-to-date, accurate MSDS information   12%
Other   6%

 

Please rate the importance of the factors below for your decision to buy a MSDS Management solution
(very important to not important on a scale of 1 to 5).

  1- Very
Important
2 3 4 5- Not
Important  
Ease of use 58% 9% 13% 6% 14%
Ensure regulatory compliance   56% 6% 14% 3% 21%
Quality and accuracy of MSDS data   52% 13% 13% 5% 19%
Track and update MSDS automatically   50% 14% 14% 13% 9%
Reduce MSDS management burden and costs   45% 16% 14% 8% 17%
Price   41% 25% 16% 6% 13%
Eliminate duplicate work   41% 14% 19% 11% 14%
Ease of installation   38% 20% 28% 8% 6%
Service & support   35% 22% 24% 8% 11%
Web-based access   35% 25% 24% 8% 8%
Up time   33% 13% 30% 8% 16%
Versatility   31% 19% 27% 11% 11%
Security   30% 14% 36% 9% 11%
Streamline workflows   30% 23% 16% 15% 16%
Customization   22% 16% 34% 16% 13%
Remote access   19% 20% 23% 16% 22%
Scalability   16% 26% 40% 8% 10%
Multi-platform   14% 24% 30% 17% 14%
Other   11% 7% 30% 11% 41%

 

Besides basic MSDS management capabilities, what other features are important to a successful
program? Please rank them in order of importance, 1 being most important.

  1- Most
Important
2 3 4 5- Least
Important  
Access to physical properties from MSDS   36% 24% 20% 8% 12%
Secondary container labeling   29% 24% 19% 18% 10%
Regulatory Reporting Tools (SARA 313, Tier II)   16% 24% 30% 15% 15%
Multi-lingual interface   11% 11% 19% 30% 30%
Other   18% 7% 13% 6% 56%

 

What is your biggest challenge for the purchase of a MSDS management solution?

Data migration to the new system 20%
Staff adoption and training 25%
Demonstrating ROI 15%
System selection 21%
Gaining user buy-in 6%
Integration with other systems 4%
Other 10%