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Safety data sheets provide information to employers and employees on any chemical or hazardous substance harmful to health. This can be things that are obviously hazardous in their current form or hazardous when cut or mixed, for example, wood boards that the dust could pose a risk when they are cut. These sheets are used within the risk assessment to gain information on products that you are assessing. These data sheets state the hazards the chemicals present and give information on handling, storage and emergency measures in case of accident. You can get safety data sheets from the supplier, manufacturer, in the packaging or in some cases, off the internet and these should be stored and available for inspection or reference.

The HSE approved code of practice states “Employers making an assessment of an activity which exposes employees to a substance (or preparation) which is classified as dangerous for supply under CHIP, must consider and take into account the information the supplier provides on the safety data sheet". What we are going to do now is have a look in greater detail at a Safety Data Sheet, and in this case, it is for bleach. On the datasheet itself, it has different sections. To start with it will have an identification of the substance, it will state who the supplier is and also emergency contact details. It then goes through hazard identification. It looks at the elements within the, what the actual product will do, what labelling is necessary and also the risks and any other hazards associated.

The next section will show the composition and the ingredients of the substance. Then it details First Aid measures. Those are going to be very important because if you had someone who had accidentally drank bleach for example, from the datasheet you would actually be able to tell what to do. This can be very valuable. Also, it looks at any symptoms that could affect people if care has been delayed. The next section looks at fire risks, and also any possible risk of the chemical in a fire then mixing with another substance. It gives advice to firefighters just in case of a larger volume - they would know what to do and any specialist equipment they would need.

Accidental Release Measures - here we are looking at environmental factors and any other factors that could cause problems on the cleanup side if the chemical gets released. Then we look at handling and storage. It is very important to store stuff correctly, so the manufacturer would detail any special requirements. In this instance here, what temperature the substance needs to be stored at. We then look at control parameters and exposure controls, what types of protective equipment are needed. Then the sheet goes through the physical and chemical properties. This can be quite detailed but at least the information is there, and this information could be quite important in looking at risk assessments, particularly if this product is going to be used with or near another product.

It then looks at toxicological information - what happens if the product is inhaled, ingested, comes into contact with the skin or the eyes, and also any medical symptoms that could show. The sheet then goes through any special transportation labels and any special precautions needed when you are actually transporting the product. Now that was just one product, that was just bleach, one particular type of bleach. Now if you look at an office, you may not have lots of chemicals, but if you imagine how many data sheets you need to have, you need to have a data sheet for every single product. It may be cleaning products so maybe 10 different datasheets.

Keep these datasheets safe and always have a look through them and particularly if there is any risk of one chemical mixing with another chemical, and if in any doubt, contact the manufacturer or supplier.