In December 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began requiring manufacturers of hazardous chemicals to provide new product safety data sheets to users that explain how to properly ship, handle and store those materials. OSHA also required manufacturers to place new safety labels on hazardous chemicals that correspond to the detailed instructions in the new product safety data sheets.

Users of the chemicals – including hospitals, medical practices, long-term care facilities, and other health care providers – are required by June 1, 2016 to have systems in place to file and share the new safety data sheets with employees, and to comply with all the safety instructions detailed in the sheets and on the new product labels.

We spoke with Kim Collier, director of regulatory affairs for McKesson Medical-Surgical, about the new requirements, how they affect health care workplace safety and how health care employers can comply with the new standards to make their workplaces as safe as possible for employees and, by extension, patients and visitors.

Question: Why did OSHA introduce new hazardous chemical safety data sheets and labels?

Collier: The previous sheets and labels were called “material safety data sheets,” or MSDS. The new sheets and labels are called “safety data sheets,” or SDS. OSHA made the change to be consistent with safety data sheets and labeling being used globally and to standardize the information included on the sheets and labels.

Question: What information is included in the SDS sheets and labels?

Transitioning to New Standards for Health Care Workplace SafetyCollier: The safety data sheets and labels have the same 16 sections, and each section must be completed by the manufacturers. They explain what types of hazards the chemicals present—is it flammable, can it explode, what happens if you touch it, breathe it or swallow it. They explain what to do if any of those things happen. And they explain how to properly handle, store and dispose of the chemicals.

Question: Why should health care employers care about the switch from MSDS to SDS?

Collier: Health care providers like hospitals and medical practices handle more hazardous chemicals than you would think. Two of the most common are ethyl chloride, which is a topical pain-numbing medication, and antiseptic hand sanitizer. Both are highly flammable. Many chemotherapy drugs are considered hazardous when not used properly.

Question: What type of health care worker is most at risk from these chemicals?

Collier: It would be anyone who comes in close contact with the chemicals or who uses the chemicals. So that starts with your materials management and pharmacy staff, then nurses or anyone who administers the products to the patients.

Question: How does the switch from MSDS to SDS promote health care workplace safety?

Collier: The safety data sheets and labels standardize the safety information provided, where it's located on the sheets and labels and how it's displayed on the labels in pictograms. From an employee's standpoint, I now can easily find the safety information I need to know, and I can instantly recognize the types of hazards each chemical presents when I handle it. It takes the guesswork out of that process.

Question: What's the most important information that the SDS provides to facilities and workers?

Collier: It's all important. But, accidents can happen. So I think one of the most important things that safety data sheets do is make it easier for facilities and workers to know what to do when an accident does occur. That means knowing how to handle a spill or release or contact with skin or eyes. Addressing things like that quickly and appropriately can mitigate any further safety issues. Of course, prevention is the goal. And the SDS information also identifies the appropriate personal protection equipment and protocols for each chemical.

Question: What do health care facilities need to do to be in compliance with the switch to SDS?

Collier: First, facilities should maintain a paper or electronic library of all the safety data sheets they receive from manufacturers, and they should make that library accessible to all employees. Second, facilities should update their hazardous materials communications and training programs for SDS. Employees should be educated about how to use SDS to make their jobs and work environment as safe as possible for them, patients and visitors. Third, facilities should set up a system to ensure that all new hazardous medical chemicals coming into their facilities are labeled properly using safety data sheets and have matching SDS sheets on file for each of those new chemicals. The same applies to chemicals that are transferred from their original containers into secondary containers on site. And fourth, facilities must document steps one, two and three to demonstrate their compliance to OSHA.

Related: Learn more about accessing Safety Data Sheet information for McKesson products

Four Steps to Ensure Compliance with Safety Data Sheets
  1. Maintain a library of SDS records from manufacturers accessible to all employees.
  2. Update SDS hazardous materials communications and training programs for employees.
  3. Develop a system for properly labeling all new hazardous medical chemicals using SDS and have matching SDS sheets on file for each of those new chemicals.
  4. Document steps one, two and three to demonstrate compliance to OSHA.
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