Ask the Expert: MSDS Sheets, Grain Alcohol Storage, Whistle Blowing, Centrifuges, and FDA MedWatch

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What is an MSDS sheet? I was told I needed one for everything I keep in the lab for cleaning.

MSDS stands for Material Safety Data Sheet. It is an OSHA required document for all chemical and material based items. It is a document that contains information on the potential hazards (health, fire, reactivity and environmental) and how to work safely with the chemical product.

It also contains information on the use, storage, handling and emergency procedures all related to the hazards of the material. The MSDS contains much more information about the material than the label. MSDSs are prepared by the supplier or manufacturer of the material. It is intended to tell what the hazards of the product are, how to use the product safely, what to expect if the recommendations are not followed, what to do if accidents occur, how to recognize symptoms of overexposure, and what to do if such incidents occur.

Where to get them:

1. Your medical supplier – Your supplier is required to provide you with the MSDS sheet for anything you purchase from them

2. Online has the MSDS sheets for over 4.5 million products that you can access and print out for free.

You will need to have them for inspection purposes and, more importantly, if someone did ingest or inhale certain products.

We use grain alcohol (100% ethyl alcohol) in some of the manual procedures we do. Does this have to be stored in a fire cabinet?

Short answer-yes. This also falls under OSHA guidelines. You may also need to use a fume hood to work with ethanol. The regulations can be found in OSHA’s Laboratory standard (29 CFR 1910.1450)


The fume hood is often the primary control device for protecting laboratory workers when working with flammable and/or toxic chemicals. Grain alcohol is HIGHLY flammable and evaporates quickly into a room or closed environment.


I have noticed something going on in the lab that I think is illegal. I cannot say anything to anyone I work with without retaliation. How do I report it?


Call your state CLIA office to make an anonymous complaint. If you are an accredited lab, contact the accreditation company directly.


A list of the contact numbers for the state CLIA offices can be found at:


If what you are observing is placing patients in danger, in addition to calling CLIA or your accreditation agency, call your local law enforcement. A patient’s health and safety should take precedent over everything else.


We use a centrifuge for specimens we send to the reference lab. The reference lab supplies the centrifuge. I was told that we have to have a tachometer check done on the centrifuge at least yearly. How do we do this or who does this?


If the centrifuge is supplied by your reference lab, they are responsible for the checks. Most reference labs are aware of these requirements and perform the checks automatically. Look on the centrifuge housing for a sticker indicating the last check date and the results.

If you cannot find one, contact your reference lab to have them perform the check.


My reference lab supplies the needles and other collection supplies we use to obtain specimens to send to them. The needle size I prefer to use for blood collection has malfunctioned three times in the last few days. What should I do?


The FDA has a reporting policy for any medical device that causes injury, harm, or death to a patient. It is called FDA MedWatch.


Below is an excerpt from the website. I underlined the parts that apply to your needle problem.


What to Report to FDA MedWatch:


Use the MedWatch form to report adverse events that you observe or suspect for human medical products, including serious drug side effects, product use errors, product quality problems, and therapeutic failures for:


  • Prescription or over-the-counter medicines, as well as medicines administered to hospital patients or at outpatient infusion centers
  • Biologics (including blood components, blood and plasma derivatives, allergenic, human cells, tissues, and cellular and tissue-based products (HCT/Ps)
  • Medical devices (including in vitro diagnostic products)
  • Combination products
  • Special nutritional products (dietary supplements, infant formulas, and medical foods)
  • Cosmetics
  • Foods/beverages (including reports of serious allergic reactions)


The link for reporting problems is: