If you run a company that keeps hazardous chemicals on site, it is essential to obtain an SDS, or Safety Data Sheet, for each product kept. SDSs contain potentially life-saving information, and therefore it is incredibly important for employers of multilingual workforces to provide clear and accurate translations for all SDSs at their company. This could ultimately mean the difference between safety and catastrophic injury.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know, starting with the basics (what an SDS is and what your legal requirements are) to how to ensure you’ve got the best quality translations on hand to keep your workforce and workspace safe.
What is an SDS?
A Safety Data Sheet can be thought of as a ‘spec sheet’ for any chemical, chemical compound, or chemical mixture. It details a chemical’s properties, ingredients, level of toxicity, and hazards, including other chemicals with which it may produce a dangerous reaction when mixed.
Safety Data Sheets also provide information about how a chemical may impact workers, property, and the environment and include instructions for safe storage, disposal, and avoiding exposure to chemicals in the workplace.
In the case of a workplace accident or emergency, a Safety Data Sheet outlines whether a chemical is flammable or explosive, how to react in the case of combustion, and how to provide medical care following a chemical exposure accident. It also provides information on how to recognize symptoms of exposure in more ambiguous circumstances.
Specific information about the information Safety Data Sheets must include to be in compliance with OSHA standards can be found here.
What’s the Difference Between an SDS and an MSDS?
Material Safety Data Sheets, or MSDSs, are an older form of SDS that was primarily used in the United States up until 2012. However, with increased global trade, international variations in methods of classification and labeling for the same chemicals began to lead to conflict and confusion.
To solve this problem, the newer SDS format was introduced to replace the Material Safety Data Sheet format. The SDS is internationally standardized in accordance with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). As of 2015, all employers in the U.S. are required to have replaced any Material Safety Data Sheets previously used with SDS-formatted documents.
For each hazardous material at your job site, you are required to obtain an SDS from the manufacturer, importer, or supplier. A comprehensive guide to SDS best practices and how to avoid some of the most common compliance violations can be found here, but we’ll cover all the basics below.
Keeping Up to Date
SDSs need to be kept up to date. While they don’t have any set expiration date, OSHA requires manufacturers and importers to provide an updated SDS within three months of any new and significant information regarding a hazardous material (e.g., a change in classification, new hazards or risk management, etc.) and revise labels within six months of acquiring new information.
For end-users (e.g., employers), the latest version of each SDS must be kept on hand in an easily accessible location at the worksite.
Whenever you update your SDSs, make sure to file away any previous SDSs or MSDSs, as these are considered employee exposure records and should be maintained for thirty years.
As per the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard, SDSs must be readily available to all employees. This means that they must be easily accessible, and cannot be kept, for example, in a locked box or room that only a few workers have keys to or on a password-protected computer. They must be kept in legible condition in a clearly-marked location to ensure quick and easy access in the case of an emergency. Safety Data Sheets also need to be made available to local fire departments and state emergency planning officials.
As part of ensuring all workers have access to SDSs in a timely manner, translations of all SDSs should also be kept on-site to ensure the safety of multilingual workforces.
The importance of SDSs cannot be overstated. They help employees understand the types of hazardous materials that they are handling and provide vital information in the event of an emergency, such as a chemical spill or accidental exposure, both of which are likely to put the health and safety of employees at risk.
Manufacturers and distributors are required to provide SDSs in the official language of the country or region where their products are being used. In the U.S., you are likely to receive most SDSs in English and may sometimes also receive them in Spanish. As an employer, however, it is up to you to ensure SDSs are provided in multiple languages if you have a multilingual workforce.
Considering that SDSs often contain complex information that needs to be quickly understood, getting SDSs translated into the languages in which your employees are most comfortable and proficient is always a good idea to maximize safety, even where employees are able to speak and understand basic English.
SDS Translation Services
There is no room for error in the Safety Data Sheet translation. A poor SDS translation may confuse or misinform a reader, taking up precious time in an emergency event.
Although some companies may be tempted to utilize bilingual employees or generalist translation services for SDS translation, this short-term fix could have dire consequences in an emergency.
SDSs contain highly technical and complex chemical safety information, which means it’s important to seek out certified translation professionals with industry-specific expertise and technical knowledge in order to ensure the best quality translation.
At ALTA, we provide high-quality technical translation into dozens of languages. For our SDS translation services, we utilize a multi-phase quality assurance process to ensure the accuracy of translations. Additionally, our quality management system is ISO Certified, meaning that it meets international standards for the provision of error-free, timely translation services.
We know how important it is for employers to ensure the safety and health of their workforce, and we’re here to help. ALTA provides free estimates for all translation services and guarantees timely, accurate SDS translation to meet your needs.
Janet Barrow holds a B.A. in Written Arts from Bard College and a Master of Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Sydney. She works as a pediatric speech pathologist and freelance writer and is currently finishing her first novel.