Train Your Cleaning Staff to Read MSDS Sheets

The material safety data sheet (MSDS) is the way to make sure your cleaning staff have all the information they need about hazards and safe handling of chemicals used on the job. Simply giving the MSDS sheets to your cleaning staff is not enough; it is your responsibility to make sure proper training is available.

Training sessions can be informative and effective if you plan a little in advance. By planning out lessons in advance, you'll be able to develop handouts highlighting important information from the MSDS sheets that you want your cleaning staff to be aware of. Since there is likely to be more individual chemicals to cover than you have time to give to training, it is useful to group the chemicals into categories; for example, disinfectants, all-purpose cleaners, and window cleaners. Each of these groups can then be discussed as a whole, which makes it easier for employees to remember. Be sure to make special note of any additional information you want to include on specific chemicals within each category.

Make sure to include copies of each MSDS sheet, so your cleaning staff is familiar with them before an emergency happens. It is also useful to have corresponding labeled containers, so everyone knows exactly which chemical you're talking about. A glossary of terms is also very helpful, since there is a lot of material for your employees to digest and remember.

It is crucial that your cleaning staff understands why MSDS sheets are so important. They contain vital health and safety information on all the chemicals used in your workplace. This includes precautions for exposure times and discussion of the effects of each chemical, as well as safe handling and emergency procedures. They also make employees aware of any protective clothing required.

There are some ways you can help your cleaning employees absorb their training on MSDS sheets:

  • Review a sample MSDS sheet by having employees look up terms in a glossary and discuss the meanings of words they are unsure about.
  • Before discussing individual chemicals, review the format of the MSDS sheets; each section of the sheet contains specific information that your employees need to know how to find quickly.
  • Discuss the ramifications of suggested exposure lengths throughout the workday, as well as workplace procedures.
  • Ensure that employees can properly identify the hazardous chemicals in your workplace by having actual examples or actual labels.
  • Go over in great detail the safety and emergency procedures specific to each of the most dangerous chemicals, as well as general rules for safe handling and clean up of other types of chemicals.
  • Be sure to mention any special precautions necessary for flammable materials, and proper disposable procedures for all the chemicals your employees come in contact with.

Each chemical manufacturer is required to provide an MSDS sheet for the chemicals they produce. Proper training and easy access to MSDS sheets for cleaning employees could make the difference in the event of an injury or accident.

Steve Hanson is co-founding member of The Janitorial Store (TM), an online community for owners and managers of cleaning companies who want to build a more profitable and successful cleaning business. Sign up for Trash Talk: Tip of the Week at and receive a Free Gift!

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