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What are MSDS risk and safety phrases?

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Quick Answer

MSDS risk and safety phrases are coded phrases used to label hazardous chemicals, says Interactive Learning Paradigms Incorporated, or ILPI. Also known as R-phrases and S-phrases, these notations provide more precise information than visual hazard symbols can provide by themselves. In the United States, OSHA does not require chemical manufacturers to use MSDS risk and safety phrases. However, the European Union long mandated the use of these classifications.

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Full Answer

When used, R-phrases are included in safety data sheets as well as chemical product labels, according to ILPI. Risk phrases include R5, which means "heating may cause an explosion," and R11, meaning "highly flammable."

Typically, it doesn't take more than six R-phrases to fully list the risks associated with any given material, says MSDS Europe. Risk phrases are complemented by S-phrases, which are used to efficiently communicate necessary safety precautions for handling the labeled material. S-phrases include S4, "keep away from living quarters," and S37, "wear suitable gloves."

As of 2015, the EU and other governments are phasing out R-phrases and S-phrases and adopting the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, or GHS. Developed by the United Nations, this labeling system replaces all risk and safety phrases with hazard statements and precautionary statements.

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