Making the decision to abandon your paper binders or Excel sheets in favor of a hosted SDS management system is about as fun as having a root canal.  You know that it has to be done sometime. You also know that the longer you hold back, the worse the problem becomes.  In this case, you also need to find and evaluate a provider that you likely know nothing about.  Because every vendor does things differently it is also difficult to compare apples to apples.

However, here are 5 things to consider that should make your search less painful:

1. Who actually owns the data in your library?

You have put in a great deal of time over the years creating and maintaining your current system.  In many cases, when you upload all of your safety data sheets into a hosted library (or select from their library) you are basically giving up ownership of your collection.  Although you may be able to download the .pdf files that represent your collection, the data behind the system does not belong to you.  You should make sure that you can freely export your library database to Excel. Download fields such as Product Name, Manufacturer Name, Facility Name, Department within the facility, First Aid information, Emergency procedure information, etc.  If you ever want to leave the vendor you select, this will greatly help the transition.

2. If the internet goes down or the power goes out, how do you still offer access to your employees?

OSHA says that as the employer, it is still your responsibility to make the Safety Data Sheets available to your employees in this situation.  You should have the ability to download and export a complete copy of your entire library without restrictions.  Even if you only make a small addition or edit to your library, you should make a backup copy every time

3. Is there a contract/agreement that you must sign?

You should anticipate a long and fruitful relationship with the vendor you choose, but you should also anticipate a breakup.  Try to stay away from multi-year contracts.  And, if you do sign a contract, be mindful of automatic renewal clauses.  Many providers require that you give them 90 days’ notice before your contract expires.  If you don’t notify them, then you have contractually agreed to be their client for another 3 years.

4. How easy is the system to use?

The entire reason that OSHA requires you to offer this information to your employees is not only because they have the right to know/understand, it is also required so that they can access emergency information in a timely manner.  For example, it is after hours and someone has accidentally ingested a chemical.  You need to know….right now: “Do I induce vomiting or is there a risk of aspiration to the lungs?”  “Should I give them water or milk to dilute it?”  In an emergency situation, how easy is it to get to that particular SDS immediately?

Complicated systems may be impressive to look and run as an administrator, but how easy is it for an employee who may have only been trained once on the system?  It is even better if your SDS library can also display customized information such as the phone number to the hospital closest to your facility, or an emergency company after-hours phone number to call.

5. Beware of “automatic updating”

Many vendors have an army of people that contact thousands of suppliers and update hundreds of thousands of SDS records every month.  The sales pitch typically goes something like this…“and you never need to worry if you are using the most recent version of the SDS because we will automatically update your library without you even asking.” 

First of all, keep in mind that proactively looking for the most recent version is NOT an OSHA requirement.  Secondly, that army of people doing the updates (even if they are overseas) is incredibly expensive.  Ask if they have an option for updating on demand, not by default.  Even if you update your library once per year or once every 3 years, you are exceeding the OSHA requirement and you will likely realize a very significant cost savings.