More than penalty avoidance - the role of the MSDS throughout the supply chain

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Courtesy of Courtesy of 3E Company

Environmental health and safety (EH&S) compliance programs are typically geared toward delivering continuous improvement in performance and/or reducing risk.

Companies that want to deliver sustainable ongoing improvements in compliance associated with handling chemicals are best advised to take a full-lifecycle approach to understanding and managing chemical product compliance across the supply chain.

The cost of non-compliance is no longer limited to fines and penalties nor does it only impact the affected employees. Increasingly, compliance and risk are associated with brand, image and, in the end, customer loyalty. As the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) often serves as the cornerstone of most chemical or hazardous material related EH&S compliance programs, its impact on compliance throughout the supply chain cannot be understated.

The following information details the various components of the supply chain, and identifies the role of the MSDS in each.

Research and development (R&D) and formulation laboratories probably get the least attention from a compliance or risk professional. Added attention during the phase can be beneficial, however; and creating and reviewing draft MSDSs for the formulations that are contemplated should be encouraged.

While this may seem time intensive and cumbersome, access to an MSDS authoring system or service can dramatically simplify this task. Using an outsourced MSDS authoring service can significantly increase productivity by allowing R&D staff to focus on more strategic functions.

Managing the MSDSs for sourced materials can also be a challenge during this phase. Often the sheer volume of chemicals and sample materials involved in this phase can make this task very difficult and non-value added. Researching and implementing an MSDS management solution may relieve the burden and enable R&D staff to streamline the management of MSDSs and their associated compliance requirements.

EH&S compliance during the manufacturing phase of the supply chain involves a myriad of variables and external obligations. First and foremost, manufacturers must ensure the safety of their products and provide their downstream customers with accurate and relevant MSDSs.

In doing this, manufacturers will recognize greater EH&S cost efficiencies, increased value to downstream end-user customers, improved compliance, reduced risk and protection of the corporate brand.

Key enabling technology platforms and applications during this phase include MSDS authoring, MSDS distribution, and associated MSDS management.

Often times an MSDS authoring service can assist manufacturers in creating compliant MSDSs, while an MSDS distribution service can help manufacturers fulfill their obligation to provide the required MSDS(s) to employees and downstream customers in accordance with global regulatory requirements.

A reputable MSDS management solution can simplify EH&S compliance by providing 24/7/365 Web-based access to a customer’s hazardous material inventory and associated MSDSs.

Downstream users are often advised to associate each item in their inventory with a manufacturer-specific MSDS and to keep the inventory list and MSDSs easily accessible. Therefore, as your products change or your MSDSs become outdated, you will also need to have a thorough process in place for acquiring new or updated MSDSs.

Distribution related compliance activities can vary widely depending on the activities undertaken by the distributor. Non-asset based distributors are faced with much less complexity when compared with asset owning distributors.

Further, the scope of functions performed – ranging from formulation, blending, to re-branding–also has an impact on compliance.

Technology application enablers during this phase include chemical inventory management and associated MSDS management and distribution and MSDS authoring (for formulators). Having a well-designed, properly maintained inventory of hazardous materials on site provides a significant strategic advantage.

If your inventory is not accurate, MSDSs may not be available when needed, or may contain outdated information. Or, by acting on outdated information, you may spend time and resources acquiring and maintaining MSDSs for products that you no longer distribute, use or store at your site.

Alternatively, if you use archived MSDS files to satisfy your 30-year exposure record requirement mandated by OSHA, the potential for including chemicals and products reviewed but never actually used at your facility could unnecessarily increase your potential future liability.

With global supply chains and just-in time inventory management being the reality of the day, any compliance related friction or disruption in the transportation portion of the supply chain is very expensive.

Companies that perform the role of the shipper typically have responsibilities to ensure that the product has been prepared for transportation in compliance with national and international regulations.

Shippers have to respond 24/7/365 to transportation related incidents and emergencies and provide access to the appropriate MSDS as necessary.

The prevalence of outdated information may lead to products being improperly classified for shipment. This directly affects the safety of the product in transit and the safety of the transporting vehicle (e.g., air, ground and vessel) and its driver, crew and passengers. If an in-transit incident occurs, emergency crews may not be prepared to respond if working with incomplete

or misleading information.

It is essential, therefore, for transporters to work with manufacturers and distributors to ensure they have the most recent MSDS(s) available. If you are working with an outsourced emergency response service provider, often times they can dispatch an emergency responder to the site of the incident while providing immediate MSDS or chemical information to assist the party reporting the incident.

For the purpose of this discussion, usage includes chemicals used in the workplace and the retailing and selling of regulated products containing chemicals directly to consumers. Chemical users face a unique set of challenges; there are a myriad of issues related to the management of MSDSs that accompany the hazardous materials, which is required by OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1200.

Users are also tasked with providing employees with immediate access to MSDSs in the event of a release or spill.

Maintaining and updating the MSDS for each product at every location can be an arduous task and site-specific MSDSs may not always be immediately available where they are needed.

In a true emergency, such as ingestion, inhalation or exposure incident, treatment information contained in the MSDS must be immediately accessible by responding personnel. Companies that do not have the proper information will be out of compliance with the Hazard Communication standard, which requires access to MSDS for employees with no barriers, and thus may incur one of the most commonly cited OSHA violations.

Important tasks and activities during the usage phase include chemical approval management, maintaining and updating current MSDS. As discussed above in the manufacturing section, an MSDS management system can be particularly beneficial during this stage of the supply chain as well as they often offer immediate searching, viewing, printing, emailing and faxing of any MSDS in your inventory and assist in compliance with the Hazard Communication Standard.

While the MSDS does not play a critical role during the disposal phase, automation opportunities exist in preparing waste documentation, markings and labels.

An accurate HazMat inventory is as essential during this stage of the supply chain as it is during the distribution phase.

Without an accurate inventory, established processes for handling specific waste streams may not be adequate. This could lead not only to improper handling, but also to waste remaining on site for longer than necessary.

Uncertainty about what, exactly, is in your waste stream may result in using waste contractors who do not have proper training, certification, tools and insurance to handle your needs.

Often times, an outsourced solution provider can assist with the creation of a successful hazardous waste management program. A reputable waste vendor can also provide assistance with the identifcation and classification of items that may be regulated as hazardous waste at the federal and state-specific level, which takes the guesswork out of the process of identifying and classifying hazardous waste.

The Bottom Line

A working knowledge of the MSDSs role throughout the supply chain can promote and sustain EH&S compliance.

Companies that have a solid understanding of the impact of the MSDS can in turn implement the best technology platforms and applications, and successfully manage the activities and tasks associated with delivering compliance.

While technology platforms and applications may be developed in-house, there are a variety of solutions that are already available in the marketplace that can be readily purchased or leased, as mentioned above. EH&S managers should evaluate compliance tasks and activities closely to discern which activities are best managed in-house and which activities can be most effectively outsourced.

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