Safety Data Sheets From Emergency Response and Fire Fighter Perspective

There is an inherent risk present in chemicals, especially those that are classified as hazardous. There is a risk of toxicity, fire, and explosion. Even with best practices, one must be prepared for worst case scenarios where such chemicals may spill, come into contact with the skin of handlers, be inhaled or ingested by them or cause fires or contaminate the soil. In all such cases, emergency responders and firefighters swing into action in order to contain such hazards.

These emergency responders like doctors, nurses, and firefighters rely on lifesaving information that is contained in the Safety Data Sheets and labels. It could mean the difference between life and death. Of course, the primary responsibility is to the persons who are handling the chemicals to be fully informed and act fast to contain the damage but there are instances when emergency response by specialists may be required as happens in the case of explosions and fires as well as damage by corrosive and toxic chemicals. In some cases such as spills of reactive chemicals only trained responder must handle the situation.

How well the SDS is prepared and the clarity of labeling contributes to how fast and correctly the emergency responders can take the right action in such situations and save lives as well as property not to speak of minimizing the impact on the environment. The hardest part for such emergency responder is to determine whether it is a simple or complex spill or situation and this can be resolved if the labels and SDS carry the right information in the appropriate columns. GHS SDS are structured to convey this information. It is up to the manufacturer/distributor/importer to ensure that such information is presented in a succinct fashion to allow emergency responder to take the right decision quickly and effectively.

The sections that are most interests to responder pertain to hazardous identification of a product that covers GHS classification, label elements including graphical symbols and text and other information. The other section is first aid measures that describe an action to be taken according to various exposure types such as inhalation, ingestion, contact and so on and the most important symptoms as well as immediate medical attention required in such cases. The other section of interest is fire-fighting measures that cover the use of appropriate extinguishing media and special hazards of the chemical and protective equipment to be used. Handling and storage sections are just as important as accidental release measures and exposure controls.

It is not surprising that quite a few manufacturers give these sections only cursory importance when they could prove to be of critical importance and it is not surprising that firefighters are not satisfied with the lack of detailed information in SDS and labels. Engaging the right company to take care of updating MSDS to SDS or preparation of SDS with emphasis on these safety precautions and information for emergency responder is vitally important. It could save lives and property.