By | December 2, 2020

Those working in hazardous materials management—whether it’s a corporation, military base or consulting firm—have at least one thing in common: They all struggle with Safety Data Sheet (SDS) management. Sourcing and accessing hazardous material information can be a fragmented, costly and time-consuming process, which can lead to risk across the supply chain and for the end user.

SDS management is a necessity in the life cycle of chemical management processes. Over the years, there have been several different efforts to create a complete SDS database of all hazardous products. For a variety of reasons, including various country regulations, manufacturer proprietary data or lack of funding, this panacea has never materialized.

The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), which is a combat logistics agency in the U.S. Defense Department, is responsible for supplying SDS information on demand to help with proper transportation, handling, storage and disposal of hazardous materials across all government sites. Its central repository of SDS information is Sphera’s Hazardous Material Information Resource System (HMIRS). A glaring problem persists though, even for one of the largest purchasers of hazardous materials in the United States: managing and inputting data.

To alleviate that pain point, Sphera has been working with the DLA on a recently contracted project to create an electronic interface—an “inbound connector”—between the manufacturer or vendor (SDS author) and the Defense Department that is not only going to define the standard for SDS data, but also automate SDS entry for many government agencies. This project, known as the SDS Smart Connector, is scheduled to be available in spring 2021.

What Is SDS Smart Connector?

This innovative technology will allow SDSs to be submitted in an electronic format rather than a PDF, enabling:

  • Mapping capabilities of each available data point
  • Scientists and chemists to be able to review the data more efficiently so they can spend their time on value-added data and proper coding
  • Quicker delivery of SDSs to the end user

Why Is This Important?

You may know that the DLA supplies everything from uniforms to toilet paper, including troop support consumables, fuels and chemicals, to support the warfighter. With locations around the globe, the DLA provides $42 billion of goods and services annually. What you may not know is that the Program Management Office (PMO) at the DLA coordinates the contracting required to unite the services that use Sphera’s Hazardous Material Management System (HMMS) suite of products.

This includes the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps commands as well as NASA facilities. The chemical-based inventory or hazardous materials inventory that the DLA handles has the same compliance requirements as commercial entities using hazardous materials, and they are required to meet U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration Hazard Communication, commonly referred to as OSHA HAZCOM, requirements and provide SDSs for those chemicals.

Also, DLA Aviation manages HMIRS, but any federal employee can apply to access it at no charge to receive product hazard information.

You can imagine that a high percentage of the goods purchased by the DLA are considered hazardous materials. The manufacturers or vendors of these hazardous materials must provide SDSs as part of their procurement contract with DLA. These SDSs, typically provided in paper format, are given to a team of highly qualified chemists, chemical engineers and scientists who review and manually enter the data into a database.

Doing so allows the user to search and find the SDS, but the data entry is a time-consuming process. Anyone who has typed in large amounts of data knows it’s possible that errors and omissions can easily occur. Being able to get the data right from the outset will ensure:

  • Time Savings: Initial data entry and subsequent updates received from the manufacturer or vendor
  • Money Savings: Inefficiencies add costs and drain the bottom line from not being able to find the necessary SDS
  • Data Quality and Data Accuracy: Eliminating manual entry greatly reduces the chance of errors
  • Better Access: Timely access to SDS data can save lives while protecting the workforce

The chemists and scientists will be able to focus on value-added data rather than data entry, which are additional details the manufacturer or vendor may not provide that can be helpful in managing hazardous materials. This value-added data includes national stock numbers (NSN), hazardous compatibility codes (HCC), English translations, government contract numbers and preferred label types, among other things.

In the future, Sphera will support the DLA in creating an interface between the HMIRS application and applications that need product hazard data to complete their business objectives. Systems will be able to pull the data from HMIRS rather than having to go through a manual data-entry process again.

The datasheet will be exported from the manufacturer’s SDS authoring system via an interface based on XML preferences. Two files must be transmitted: the first one is the PDF file as the legal document and the second one is the structured data as an XML file. For the downstream user, these two files will be processed by an importing interface that goes into the in-house system. From there, the HMIRS team of chemists and scientists will perform quality assurance on the data and complement the entry with value-added data.

With the SDS Smart Connector contract, Sphera is adding new technologies to the DLA’s hazardous materials management offering and continues to bring innovative solutions to the DLA and its customers to assist them with the many challenges associated with hazardous materials management.

Angela Wirick, Sphera’s product management director for government services, and Carly Sundberg, Sphera’s product marketing specialist, contributed to this blog.