Hosted services tapped to manage data on chemicals

Manufacturers replace safety info sheets with online systems

An emerging class of hosted services is designed to make it easier for manufacturing companies to manage the material safety data sheets (MSDS) required for each of the chemicals used in their products.

This week, 3E Co., a Carlsbad, Calif.-based provider of Web-based chemical management services, launched Version 2.0 of its 3E Online offering. The upgraded service allows users to more quickly search for MSDS information across multiple sites, and it makes it easier for manufacturers to verify their compliance with international standards regulating the use of chemicals, according to 3E.

Due to make a similar announcement on Oct. 10 is Actio Corp., a Hampton, N.H-based application service provider that offers a portfolio of chemical management services. Actio's MSDS Vault service will include new features for handling preliminary screening of chemicals, inventory management and chemical tracking.

"The primary return on such services is compliance assurance," said Jeet Radia, assistant vice president in charge of environmental issues at McWane Inc., a maker of cast-iron pipes and fittings in Birmingham, Ala.

Like other manufacturers, McWane is required to maintain detailed MSDSs listing the physical attributes, toxicity and health effects of each of the chemicals used in its products, as well as its procedures for disposing of them. The data is required under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Hazardous Communication Standard and is designed to give employees and emergency workers information on the proper handling of chemicals.

Until recently, McWane maintained 10,000 MSDSs across its 25 facilities using a paper-based approach that made the information difficult to access and even harder to update. The process was cumbersome and imprecise, said Radia, who added that the data sheets lacked a consistent format and often were illegible.

McWane signed up for a managed MSDS service with Safetec Software LLC in Vancouver, Wash., about six months ago. Under that arrangement, Safetec is scanning all of McWane's MSDSs into a more organized online system that makes it easier to retrieve information, Radia said. The improved access has also allowed the company to tie its enterprise environmental management system to the MSDS data to allow for quicker chemical compliance checks during the manufacturing process.

Behr Process Corp. in Santa Ana, Calif., switched from a paper-based system to Actio's service two years ago and has seen significant improvements in its ability to comply with OSHA requirements, said Michael Butler, the paint maker's director of environmental and regulatory affairs. The hosted service has also helped Behr expedite the preparation of federal, state and local reports relating to its use and storage of chemicals, he said.

Cost considerations are another factor for users, said Russ McCann, Actio's president and CEO. Companies typically spend about $50 per year for every MSDS they maintain themselves, McCann said. In contrast, Actio's service starts at about $7,500 annually for a five-year contract, plus $10 per year for each MSDS the vendor manages.

Officials at 3E and Safetec declined to disclose pricing for their services, saying it varies by customer.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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