MSDS updates: Roles and responsibilities

Question: With the changes in the regulatory landscape regarding material management, do companies need to contact suppliers to obtain changes to a Material Safety Data Sheet? 

Responding is Mary Rudolph, IHS senior manager, global content, and Carrie Decatur, IHS project manager, IHS Inc., Englewood, CO.

No – the chemical supplier is responsible for providing a Material Safety Data Sheet to its customers.

Requirements for notifying a downstream customer about MSDS updates vary widely across jurisdictions. For example, OSHA requires companies to update an MSDS within 90 days of a major change. However, the regulation lacks a specific requirement to notify customers. Here are examples of other national requirements:

  • Under the European Union’s Classification, Labelling and Packaging provisions of Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restrictions of Chemicals, upstream suppliers are required to provide notification of new safety sheet information “as soon as possible.”  
  • Canadian regulations require MSDSs to be updated every three years or when a formulation change occurs.
  • South Korea requires updates to be provided within three months of a major change to an MSDS under the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, but no regulations provide a definition of “major change.”

In addition, the Downstream Users of Chemicals Coordination Group – a European association representing downstream industries, including aerosols, paints, adhesives, photographic and construction chemicals, and chemical distributors – provides voluntary guidelines that attempt to clarify critical definitions, including the difference between major and minor changes to an MSDS, and establish industry standards for notification to downstream users. 

Compliance with right-to-know and product stewardship standards can be a rigorous, time-consuming process. Many enterprise companies support their compliance program with MSDS-authoring solutions that help streamline the process of addressing compliance under multiple right-to-know regulations. Automated authoring systems also offer the capability to link software applications that automatically distribute MSDS changes to customers as needed.   

The days are gone when homegrown systems, spreadsheets or manual processes, supported by administrative resources, can adequately address MSDS compliance. In today’s regulatory environment, an enterprise-level automated system is regarded as a must. A patchwork of systems and manual processes can leave a business exposed to considerable risk and costs because they cannot handle the complex reporting requirements or support the rapid pace of change in the global regulatory landscape.  

The best way for a downstream manufacturer to ensure effective MSDS compliance is to:

  • Ensure your compliance team is familiar with MSDS compliance regulations where your company operates. That is especially true for U.S. companies because OSHA is expected to adopt GHS as the national Hazard Communication Standard later this year. 
  • Establish a communication protocol for vendors that ensures MSDSs from across the supply chain will be provided in a timely manner.

Editor's Note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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