Sunday, February 14, 2010

MSDS or Materials Safety Data Sheets

In many of the Art Studios and engineering spaces at Alfred University there are MSDS Stations. This is the MSDS Station in the print media space. MSDS is the acronym for Materials Safety Data Sheets - a listing of the possible hazards associated with a specific chemicals. Materials Safety Data Sheets were introduced into the workplace by the Occupational Safety and Healthy Administration (OSHA). The beginning of federal oversight into private sector employee health and safety was the 1970s with the creation of the agency by the passage of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Materials Safety Data Sheets became standard and required with the issuance of the Hazard Communication standard that became effective in 1985.
Today OSHA mandates that MSDS be available for employee review if they are or could be potentially exposed to harmful or hazardous substances, chemicals or waste. Colloquially this policy of making information available to employees is known as the "Right To Know". On a local level the MSDS are required by local emergency response teams (such as fire or ambulatory services) in order to prepare for potential spills or complications these substances could create in other emergency situations (like a fire).

MSDS's include information such as physical data ( boiling point, melting point, flash point etc.), toxicity, health effects, first aid, reactivity, storage, disposal, personal protective equipment andspill/leak procedures. Interestingly they are not standardized, either by nation or region. Most MSDS stations include not only the sheets themselves but information about how to decipher the sheets in order to obtain the necessary information. In addition to complex written information MSDS's used at Alfred University include the NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency Hazard Identification system. This color coded diamond symbol relates information about the chemical in four vital areas: Flammability,(red) Health Hazard, (blue) Reactivity,(yellow) and Special Precautions/Protective equipment required (white). The amount of hazard in each area that a material poses is listed by a number (1 through 4) within any of the colored diamonds. The white diamond may contain other rebus symbols about what sort of equipment needed (A = goggles must be worn) or what type of substance the material is (COR=corrosive) or other vital informational symbol as specified by national fire codes (as is the case when a material is reactant to water).

Alfred University is a modern educational establishment that trains students in the engineering and fine arts fields. In many cases experiments, labs, projects and materials used in these two areas could be hazardous. As an educational institution it is the schools responsibility to educate faculty, staff and students who regularly use or who may come into contact about these materials and their possible hazards and dangers. The University employs Hope Zaccagni as the Two Dimensional Studios technician. Part of her occupation is the upkeep of responsible materials management within the departments of Drawing, Painting and Photography as well as the Division of Expanded Media at the School of Art and Design at Alfred University. While it is uncommon for some to think of common art materials to be considered hazardous many that students use today are hazardous. It is true that the prevalence of toxic pigments used in the creation of paints and inks has been greatly reduced. However, there are some materials used in certain art making processes that will always be inherently dangerous, for example in the use of traditional metal etching printmakers use diluted nitric acid to eat away at a metal plate, oil based inks and paints are thinned and cleaned by synthetic solvent or mineral spirits, photo developer is a concentrated alkaline solution. The majority of these hazardous and often flammable liquids are stored on site within the university in specially designed inflammable locked cabinets, preventing unnecessary exposure to concentrated solutions. These more dangerous substances are often only distributed or prepared by faculty, technicians or trained work study students.
The impact upon students that these safety precautions are felt in numerous ways. Each semester each division hosts right to know presentations that require compulsory attendance. For every course that utilizes potentially hazardous materials students are given a mandatory safety presentation, normally occurring in the first week of classes, about the proper use, handling, personal protective equipment, and disposal of any and all chemicals. As access to most potentially hazardous materials is restricted or limited, some students encounter difficulty in working after hours if lab technicians, monitors, faculty or work study students are not available to dispense or allow them access to various materials.
As a University invested in higher education, Alfred University is also a business as it is also one of the most important employers in the region. As a part private sector/state funded institution the school falls well within the jurisdiction of OSHA and regional Right to Know laws. However, as an institution it has found that students (especially non-work study students) who are not technically employees have the right and need to understand the hazards and issues involved in working with chemical materials. Along with students directly involved in the use and consumption of materials the University has been required to train and equip staff members of the physical and heating plants, members of the public safety office as well as area emergency crews to deal with possible issues arising from the nature of hazardous materials stored and used on the Alfred University campus.
In summation, the University in compliance with local and federal regulations maintains a complex system of safety regulations that keep its students and faculty safe by educating them about the various chemical substances they may come into contact with, what if any health hazards or environmental dangers these materials represent, and how to deal with any possible spills or accidents. MSDS were an important step in allowing those in contact with harmful substances to be in control of information about their health. Today it is interesting that the majority of the student population within the School of Art and Design is somewhat blase about their personal safety. The majority of MSDS sheets exist within studio spaces, but they are not often consulted- the majority of these sheets are being offered as an online document to improve student and employee self education.

Works Cited
"MSDS on the Internet." ILPI home page. Ed. Rob Toreki. Interactive Learning Paradigms, Incorporated. Web. 14 Feb. 2010. .
"NFPA Hazard Identification System." Chemistry Labs Homepage. University of Oregon, Chemistry Teaching Laboratories. Web. 15 Feb. 2010. .
"Regulations (Standards - 29 CFR)." Occupational Safety and Health Administration - Home. Web. 14 Feb. 2010. .


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