Key messages

  • Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) contain information that is important for assessing the risk involved in using a pesticide.
  • The information found in an MSDS will depend largely on the pesticide in question – more hazardous pesticides will likely have a longer, more detailed MSDS than a less hazardous pesticide.
  • If you use pesticides, you must have an MSDS for every pesticide you use in an easily accessible location, including in vehicles if you transport pesticides.

Pest control operators (PCOs) need to have a good understanding of Material safety data sheets (MSDSs) and the information in them.

MSDSs contain information that is important for assessing the risk involved in using a pesticide.

It is important to read and understand the MSDS before using the associated product or pesticide.

An accurate risk assessment is required to ensure the safety of the PCO and the general public. In addition, a risk assessment is a requirement of the legislation administered by the WorkSafe Victoria.

Material safety data sheet – purpose

The MSDS will advise you on how to safely handle and use the pesticide, so that:

  • exposure to the pesticide is reduced
  • the risk of experiencing adverse health effects from exposure to the pesticide is reduced.

MSDSs also contain other information for each pesticide, such as:

  • potential hazards
  • physical properties
  • health effects
  • toxicity
  • first aid
  • personal protection controls
  • safe storage and disposal.

The information found in an MSDS will depend largely on the pesticide in question. For a non-toxic product, the MSDS may be quite brief, but a more hazardous substance will warrant more detailed information on its toxicity and safety-related information.

Therefore, each MSDS is of different length, depending on the hazard of the pesticide and the information available.

Material safety data sheet – audience

Pesticide MSDSs are for the general public. In particular, they contain important information for:

  • people who may be exposed to a pesticide, or employers and employees who administer pesticides
  • emergency responders, in case of a pesticide spill
  • medical personnel, in case of poisoning from exposure to a pesticide.

PCOs are required to have a copy of the MSDS for every pesticide they use. These should be kept in an easily accessible location wherever the pesticide is stored, including vehicles. This is important in case of emergencies such as fires.

PCOs may also like to give a client a copy of the MSDS for the products they used for that client.

Material safety data sheet – availability

Chemical manufacturers and importers produce MSDSs. They must also provide current MSDSs to any person to whom the substance is supplied on request. PCOs can obtain MSDSs from chemical suppliers or manufacturers.

Employers must ensure that their employees have access to a current copy of an MSDS for each and every pesticide used.

Employers must also identify hazards and assess risks to people and property if dangerous goods are stored, transported or handled.

Material safety data sheet – currency

PCOs must ensure that the MSDS for each pesticide they carry is current. Check with the manufacturer for updates on MSDSs every 12 months.

The date of issue is specified at the top of the MSDS, this indicates when the document was last issued or revised. Revisions are usually issued when new information becomes available, such as evidence of adverse health effects.

Material safety data sheet – sections

MSDSs comprise 16 sections.

1. Identification of the substance and supplier

Section 1 contains:

  • the commercial name of the product
  • the details of the manufacturer or supplier, including their phone number, address and emergency contact details
  • the recommended or intended use.

2. Hazards identification

Section 2 provides information about the potential health effects of the substance. Health effects may result from acute or chronic exposure to the product as supplied through inhalation, skin contact or ingestion. The MSDS is not necessarily indicative of the hazards associated with the diluted product or treated surfaces.

Other information includes hazardous substance classification and dangerous goods class.

3. Composition and information on ingredients

Section 3 details the major components of the substance. Pesticides may have one or more ingredients and their composition or concentrations are described Section 3.

The minor components may be stated if they are potentially hazardous. The MSDS may also list synonyms or other names for the product. It is important to know the components of the substance used in case of emergency.

4. First-aid measures

The first aid measures describe the initial care that would be given by a first responder in case of overexposure. The instructions are based on the relevant routes of exposure:

  • inhalation
  • ingestion
  • skin or eye contact.

Section 4 may also contain:

  • symptoms seen as a result of chronic exposure
  • any evidence that shows the pesticide to be mutagenic, teratogenic, carcinogenic or a skin sensitiser
  • a description of any specifically required first-aid facilities (for example, an eyewash station)
  • advice for medical practitioners in the event of exposure.

5. Firefighting measures

Section 5 provides information on measures to take if the substance is involved in a fire. It may also give details of any hazardous products, which may be emitted in a fire. Section 5 will also describe any emergency actions to take, required personal protective equipment (PPE) to wear and precautions for firefighters to take.

Section 5 will also provide the HAZCHEM code, if available.

6. Accidental release measures

Section 6 describes actions that should be taken to:

  • contain a spill
  • clean up a spill
  • dispose contaminated material after a spill.

7. Handling and storage

Section 7 specifies special precautions or procedures that are required for safe storage and handling of the substance.

Storage information may include requirements such as isolation from children or storage at an appropriate temperature.

Transport information may include the Australian Dangerous Goods (ADG) Code.

8. Exposure controls and personal protection

In Section 8, any exposure standards are specified.

These may be expressed as threshold limit value (TLV) (time-weighted average [TWA] and short-term exposure limit [STEL]).

Section 8 will also list engineering controls (such as exhaust ventilation), hygiene measures and any PPE required for specific jobs (such as mixing or application). PPE might include face, eye and respiratory protection, clothing and any other necessary PPE.

9. Physical and chemical properties

Section 9 lists the physical and chemical properties of the substance, and describes the appearance and odour. Other characteristics might also be specified, such as its:

  • melting point
  • boiling point
  • specific gravity
  • vapour pressure
  • flash point
  • flammability (see flammable)
  • solubility in water.

10. Stability and reactivity

Section 10 gives information about the stability of the substance under common storage conditions. Conditions (such as excessive heat) that need to be avoided are also described. Such conditions may result in decomposition of the substance.

Any incompatible substances that should be avoided are also listed. Mixing the substance with an incompatible substance may result in a violent reaction (see ‘reactivity’) and release large amounts of toxic vapours.

11. Toxicological information

Section 11 lists the symptoms from exposure to the substance through inhalation, ingestion, skin and eye contact.

Any data from toxicological studies on animals are reported in this section and expressed as LD50. These may or may not directly relate to humans.

Other known data on reproductive toxicity, mutagenicity and carcinogenicity will be given. If the substance causes eye or skin irritation, or is a known sensitizer, this will also be reported.

There may be an acceptable daily intake (ADI) specified for the substance.

12. Ecological information

Section 12 details any known harmful effects the substance may have on the environment and any precautions to be taken to avoid contamination.

The LC50 data for aquatic animals, such as fish, that would be affected if the substance entered waterways may be specified. The toxicity to other animals, such as birds and bees, may also be available.

The persistence or biodegradability of the substance in the environment may be given as its half-life.

13. Disposal considerations

Section 13 provides instructions on the disposal of unwanted quantities of the substance or the container.

14. Transport information

Section 14 lists proper shipping names and codes. This may include the dangerous goods class, United Nations (UN) number, HAZCHEM code and packing group.

15. Regulatory information

Section 15 provides:

  • warning statements (such as risk phrases and safety phrases)
  • the poison schedule
  • federal and state regulations that may affect the product’s manufacture, distribution and application.

16. Other information

Section is a list of any other information relevant to the preparation of the MSDS, such as:

  • explanations of abbreviations used
  • literature references
  • other sources of data.

Material safety data sheet – definitions

Acceptable daily intake (ADI): a measure of the amount of a substance in food or drinking water that can be ingested each day over a lifetime without risk to health. This is usually expressed in milligrams (of substance) per kilogram of body weight (of person) per day.

Acute: adverse health effects that usually occur as a result of short-term exposure to a substance.

Australian Dangerous Goods Code: Australian code for the transport of dangerous goods by road or rail.

Boiling point: the temperature at which a substance turns from liquid into gas.

Carcinogenic: a substance that causes (or is believed to cause) cancer.

Ceiling limit: maximum allowable human exposure limit for an airborne or gaseous substance which is not to be exceeded even momentarily.

Chronic: adverse health effects resulting from long-term exposure or persistent adverse health effects resulting from short-term exposure. This can include a rash, bronchitis, cancer or any other medical condition.

Decomposition: chemicals can ‘go off’ or decompose and break down into other chemicals, which may be hazardous. Decomposition may be accelerated by factors such as heat, water, UV or oxygen exposure, or extreme heat such as the event of a fire.

Dangerous goods (DG) class: the class allocated to a substance under the Australian Dangerous Goods Code. Dangerous goods are assigned to a class according to the predominant type of risk they pose. Most pesticides will be designated as ‘Class 6 – Poisonous (toxic)’.

Exposure standards: the maximum amount of a substance that a person may be exposed to during a day or over a period of time. These should be observed to ensure persons are not exposed to dangerous levels and are particularly useful in assessing the health risks associated with a substance.

Flammable: a substance capable of being ignited and burning in air.

Flash point: the lowest temperature at which a liquid will give off enough flammable vapour to form an ignitable mixture with air.

Half-life: the time required for a substance to decay to half its initial concentration.

Hazardous substance classification: a substance is classified as hazardous:

  • if it is included on the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission’s List of Designated Hazardous Substances
  • when assessed in accordance with the Approved Criteria for Classifying Hazardous Substances.

HAZCHEM code: relates to emergency responses required for a substance in the event of a major incident. They consist of a numeral followed by one or two letters:

  • The numeral relates to the firefighting method required (1 = water jets, 2 = water fog, 3 = foam and 4 = dry agent).
  • The first letter denotes whether there is danger of violent reaction or explosion, the PPE required and the measures to be taken in the case of spillage. Some of the letters are contained in a box and are reversed out from a black background. The reversed letters indicate that no toxic hazard will arise in a non-fire incident (for example, spillage only).
  • The second letter is Code E, and is used to indicate if evacuation needs to be considered by the emergency authorities.

LC50 (lethal concentration): the concentration of a substance (usually in air or water) that is estimated to produce death in 50 per cent of a population of experimental animals on inhalation for a short period of time.

LD50 (lethal dose): the dose of a substance that produces death in 50 per cent of a population of experimental animals. Usually expressed in milligram per kilogram of body weight (mg/kg).

Melting point: the temperature at which a substance turns from solid to liquid at atmospheric pressure.

Mutagenic: a substance that is able to produce mutations in DNA (which increase the number of changes in the DNA), which may lead to defective cells or cancer.

Poison schedule: used to classify pesticides to control the availability of a product to the general public. Schedules are determined upon assessment of factors such as:

  • toxicity
  • proposed use
  • need
  • concentration
  • form.

Pesticides are either unscheduled, or fall into schedule 5, 6 or 7. Each schedule has a corresponding warning, which appears in large contrasting lettering on the label of the pesticide as shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Scheduled poisons and corresponding label warnings

Scheduled poison

Label warning

Unscheduled

Some may display ‘KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN’

Schedule 5

‘CAUTION’

Schedule 6

‘POISON’

Schedule 7

‘DANGEROUS POISON’

Schedule 7 poisons may only be purchased and used by authorised individuals, and require extreme care when handled.

Reactivity: the tendency of a substance to undergo a chemical reaction. A substance’s reactivity may result in undesirable effects such as:

  • pressure build-up
  • temperature increase
  • formation of noxious, toxic or corrosive by-products.

The reactivity of a substance may be caused by heating, burning, direct contact with other materials, or other conditions in use or storage.

Risk phrase: describes the hazard type of a substance. These consist of the letter ‘R’ followed by a number (for example, R10 represents a ‘Flammable’ substance).

Safety phrase: describes the safe handling of a substance. These consist of the letter ‘S’ followed by a number (for example, S15 indicates ‘Keep away from heat’).

Skin sensitiser: a substance that causes a substantial portion of exposed people to develop a skin allergy after repeated exposure.

Solubility in water: the maximum amount of solid that can be dissolved in a certain amount of water at a certain temperature (for example, 12 grams per litre at 25 °C).

Specific gravity: takes into account the mass of a substance per unit of volume and compares it to the mass occupied by water for the same volume (and at a given temperature).

Short-term exposure limit (STEL): the maximum permissible level of exposure for periods of up to 15 minutes. The airborne concentration to which workers can be exposed to continuously for a short period of time without suffering from irritation.

Threshold limit value (TLV): a value that represent levels of exposure that may be tolerated without adverse health effects, including STEL, TWA and ceiling limits.

Time-weighted average (TWA): the maximum permissible level for constant workplace exposure. The airborne concentration when calculated over a normal 8-hour working day, for a 5-day working week.

Teratogenic: a substance able to produce abnormalities in a developing fetus – that is, a substance that can cause birth defects.

Toxicity: capacity of a substance to produce transient or permanent damage to an organism.

United Nations (UN) number: a four-digit number (preceded with ‘UN’) used internationally in transport to identify different classes of hazardous chemicals.

Vapour: the gas phase of a liquid substance (for example, evaporated steam above water).

Vapour pressure: the pressure exerted by the vapour above a liquid, which is temperature dependent.

Material safety data sheet – preparation

In Victoria, the Occupational Health and Safety (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2007 and the Dangerous Goods (Storage and Handling) Regulations 2000 require manufacturers and importers to prepare and review MSDSs for substances classified as hazardous or dangerous.

Overseas MSDSs are only accepted if prepared in accordance with the National Code of Practice for the Preparation of Material Safety Data Sheets [NOHSC:20011(2003)].

Contact details

  • Pest Control Program

    Phone hours are: 9 am to 12 pm, Monday to Friday. Direct all other enquiries to the pest control email address. Postal address: GPO Box 4057, Melbourne VIC 3001