The Three Questions Everyone Asks About Electronic MSDS Management and OSHA Compliance

When talking with EH&S managers about moving to an electronic MSDS management system, there are three questions we frequently hear:

  1. Is it OSHA compliant?
  2. Can my employees handle it?
  3. Do I have to give up paper entirely?

The answers are yes, yes, and not if you don’t want to.

Question one is the easiest to answer. OSHA has allowed electronic access to MSDSs since 1989, provided there are adequate back-up systems in place for emergency situations such as power outages, equipment failures, and online access delays.  [Read more]

Question two is more subjective, and EH&S managers know best what their employees can handle. Nevertheless, our experience suggests that employees can handle working with an online MSDS management system and that they find it easier than working with a paper system.

A good online MSDS management system allows employees, even those who are not computer savvy, to easily search for MSDSs by name, manufacturer, CAS number, and other customizable fields. Right-to-Know deployment tools ensure that everyone in your company has immediate access to your MSDS documents when needed.

In other words, using an online MSDS management system as an employee takes about as much technical skill as using an ATM or paying for groceries via a self-checkout lane at the grocery store.

Thousands of healthcare facilities, construction companies, municipalities, manufacturing businesses and educational organizations already use an online system to manage their MSDSs. Any concerns an individual business or agency might have about employee adoption have most likely already been addressed.

The answer to question three is entirely up to you. EH&S managers committed to paper deployment or those who want to make a slow transition to electronic deployment will discover that an online MSDS management system makes paper deployment simple.

MSDSs can be organized online into separate e-binders (electronic binders) by facilities or workstations, and then printed as needed. When changes or updates occur to the existing MSDSs, the e-binders are automatically updated and can then be printed and added to the ubiquitous three ring binders.

This last point is especially important considering the changes coming to MSDSs via the impending adoption of GHS (Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals). We expect that within the next few years, every MSDS will need to be updated to meet GHS requirements.

Do you have to give up paper entirely? No. But we have found that after experiencing the benefits of electronic management, EH&S managers lose their ties to paper and older ways of doing things and begin looking for ways to automate other elements of their safety plan. What’s more, their employees don’t miss a beat.