Working Healthy

MSDS Intelligence

If you are a salon owner and don’t have proper MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) documentation, not only are you doing yourself and your clients a disservice, but you also risk getting into hot water with your local OSHA agency.

How about a little MSDS with that monomer? Your eyes may glaze over at the mention of “chemicals” and “paperwork,” but it’s serious business. If you are a salon owner and don’t have proper MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) documentation, not only are you doing yourself and your clients a disservice, but you also risk getting into hot water with your local OSHA agency. “We would issue a citation if we found evidence of failure to comply,” says Les Michael, a senior industrial hygienist at California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health office (Cal/OSHA) in San Francisco. “There could be monetary penalties of up to $7,000 per violation.”

Besides potential fines, operating without MSDS poses a health risk to anyone in your salon who comes in contact with hazardous products. You must know instantly what to do if you accidentally splash primer in your eye or bond a client’s hands together with nail adhesive. “Usually the calls we get are crises like this,” says Marlene Bridge, owner of Elegant Distributing in Pittsburgh, Pa. “I’ll ask them if they have an MSDS and they say, ‘What’s that?’ So first I look up my own MSDS on the product and walk the caller through what she should do. Then I’ll stress to her the importance of having her own.”

Products requiring MSDS include (but are not limited to) acrylic liquids and powders, resins, accelerators, adhesives, gels, polish, polish remover, primer, dehydrators, top coats, disinfectants, cleaning solvents, nail art paint, quick-dry spray, and liquid cuticle remover. Anything that is flammable, could cause irritation or ingestion problems, or that could cause someone to slip (such as gels or oils) should also have an MSDS.

The Ultimate Security

Hundreds of industries, including oil refineries, chemical plants, automobile manufacturers, commercial painters, tire manufacturers, contractors, even dry cleaners, are required by federal law to have MSDS on every product they use or make that may be hazardous to humans. This mandate is part of The Hazard Communications Standard, which requires employers to “transmit information on the hazards of chemicals to their employees by means of labels on containers, material safety data sheets, and training programs. Implementation of these programs will ensure that all employees have the ‘right to know’ the hazards and identities of the chemicals they work with, and will reduce the incidence of chemically related occupational illnesses and injuries.” Both OSHA and NIOSH pointed to an increase in the number of American workers who were exposed to hazardous substances in their workplace and felt that lack of knowledge contributes to underreporting of occupational illnesses. The rule, adopted in 1983, was revised in 1987 to cover both manufacturing and non-manufacturing industries.

An MSDS is not like a Form 1040 tax return, which looks the same no matter where you get it or who fills it out. “It’s based on content, not structure,” says Michael. In general, an MSDS must list the hazardous ingredients of a product, describe its health and safety hazards, what to do to limit exposure, and who to contact in case of an emergency (see the sidebar “40 Reasons to Have MSDS”). But there is no master form that places all the information in the exact same place with the same wording. Therefore, every industry and in fact, every company, likely has a slightly different format for its MSDS. The nail industry has its own simplified format, thanks to the Nail Manufacturers Council. In 1992, Doug Schoon, director of R&D for Creative Nail Design (Vista, Calif.), and the NMC developed a format that lists the most important information on the front of the first page, then continues on the back. Most nail product MSDS are two pages, double-sided, and some nail manufacturers comply with this format.

No matter what it looks like, an MSDS can come in handy at times when you least expect it. If a fire started in your salon, firefighters would need to check your MSDS to see what kind of chemicals they were dealing with. Paramedics and emergency poison control centers will ask you for an MSDS so they know how to advise a doctor on treatment if someone accidentally swallowed monomer.

Accidents don’t just occur in the salon, either. Manufacturers of nail products must also take precautions when shipping product. “The Federal Aviation Administration is very strict, especially after the Value Jet incident [where due to human error, oxygen tanks that were thought to be empty were left on board],” says Christina Jahn, marketing director for Star Nail Products (Valencia, Calif.). Jahn is busy updating the company’s entire set of MSDS, and she was recently at a training session for shipping hazardous materials. “We must send an MSDS if we ship something like monomer to Russia. If a bottle breaks en route, they’ll need to know how to handle it properly.” While this is not part of the Hazardous Communications Standard, it illustrates the widespread usage of MSDS-type documentation.

Not Knowing Is No Excuse

While all this may sound highly technical, it really isn’t. “An MSDS actually takes the chemical information of a product, translates it, and tells you what the effects are from overexposure and mishandling, how to store and dispose of it safely, and even where to call in case of an emergency,” says Schoon.

Each manufacturer is responsible for making its MSDS available to distributors that carry its products. However, it is up to the salon owner to make sure she has MSDS for every product in her salon that requires one. Nail technicians and booth renters should keep their own set for safety reasons. “Teaching the importance of MSDS is part of our school curriculum,” says Stella Neffinegger, school administrator for Western Hills School of Beauty and Hair Design in Cincinnati. Neffinegger is hoping that the Ohio State Board’s new commitment to fighting MMA will be reinforced by inspectors who are now requesting MSDS if they suspect MMA liquid monomer is being used. “Of course it’s not foolproof, but it’s the best method we have at the moment for cracking down on this problem.”

In California, a salon owner does have a chance to appeal a non-compliance citation within 15 days by setting up a conference with an OSHA district manager. If she can adequately explain the circumstances or show evidence that she attempted to secure MSDS and was unsuccessful, then the citation might be reduced or waived. OSHA inspectors will not exempt a salon owner for not knowing about the rule.

Some nail technicians and salon owners claim they have a hard time getting their distributors to send the requested MSDS. It may take repeated phone calls, and many months may go by before the documents are mailed. Some companies send MSDS that are hard to read or that haven’t been updated in many years. (Technically, a product needs a new MSDS only if the formulation has changed. However, if an MSDS is more than three years old, it’s a good idea to request a new one, or to ask the manufacturer if a new one has been issued since that date.)

Most reputable companies and distributors claim they try to accommodate MSDS requests within a reasonable period of time; 30 to 90 days should be ample time for them to respond. “If any of our customers asks for an MSDS on the products we sell, we can get it out to them in one or two days,” says Bridge. “After all, we are required to have all of these on file, too.” Bridge asks her customers to state their request in writing, both for her own records and theirs. “It shows that you have tried to comply if OSHA ever questions you,” she says. The calls for MSDS are few and far between, she admits. “The people who call are the nail technician who is pregnant and her doctor requested MSDS, or someone who has a problem with ventilation and the ventilation expert says, ‘Show me your MSDS.’”

Jahn, on the other hand, says she’s seen an increased awareness of MSDS requirements. “We get about 40 calls a week, and I have someone who helps field the calls and handle the requests,” she says. Schoon says that awareness, if not compliance, is increasing at his industry safety lectures. Still, many nail technicians are either unaware of the MSDS rule or have not made the time to satisfy it. They should know that a few hours spent gathering this important paperwork could save them considerable hassle and money — and could even save a life 

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