By Lee Slaton, Vice President of Healthcare; Smart Training

Inspecting several hundred dental practices around the country, I noticed a common feature that could delay proper care in an emergency—and creates extra work for staff.

HUGE Safety Data Sheets (SDS) books (formerly known as Material Safety Data Sheets [MSDS]).

Manufacturers and distributors take a cover-all-angles approach (which isn’t in itself a bad thing), and deliver an SDS document for practically every product—whether it has hazardous properties or not.

As a result, most practices we inspect (at least the first time) keep SDS documents of every product it’s ever purchased, and have SDS books that are 4–6” thick. Some have multiple (4–6” thick) books.

My team of compliance advisors and I helped practices dramatically reduce the size of their SDS books. (In Oregon, we reduced one practice’s book[s] from two 6” binders to one 2” binder—a much more manageable and usable book to refer to in an emergency.)

How to simplify your SDS book

Know what’s actually required: SDS documents should be maintained for all products classified as hazardous.

How can you tell which products are hazardous, and which aren’t? The SDS format utilized to meet the Globally Harmonized System of classification makes it much easier to discern what products are considered hazardous.

How do you know which SDS documents to keep?
Keep those that:

  1. Have hazard pictographs. These are new images (such as those pictured above) that depict the type of hazard identified. If there’s no pictograph, check for items 2 and 3 below.
  2. Have a NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) listing with a number greater than 0. The old standby, the NFPA “diamond,” contains 4 numbers—one for each type of hazard. If any of them is greater than 0, the product is considered hazardous.
  3. Have an HMIS (Hazardous Materials Identification System) listing with a number greater than 0. Another old standby, this also contains 4 numbers—one for each type of hazard. If any number is greater than 0, the product is considered hazardous.
Next month, Smart Training will provide more tips for your SDS book, and the all-important hazardous chemical inventory list. If you have questions regarding your SDS book and hazardous chemical inventory, you can contact Lee Slaton at