The market for safety data sheet (SDS) management is highly competitive. When it comes time to choose, you’ll likely have a tough decision. That’s because most organizations (1) don’t know what they need (2) don’t know what’s available and (3) don’t ask the right questions.
That’s where we start—with the right questions and considerations.
Picking the right system will save you time, money, frustration and keep your organization safe and compliant. This is a must have, how-to guide when it comes to asking the right questions to make an informed purchase.
Vendor Service Record
In a highly competitive provider landscape, customer service and support is a true differentiator. In addition to these considerations, you will want to ask sales reps to for customer testimonials, referrals to speak with actual customers, along with any supporting data and on customer retention or renewal. The best way to learn about organizational values, is to speak with a real customer, for an unbiased opinion.
- Responsive? Prove it.
- Do they assign a Program Manager to your account?
- Customer retention rate?
- Current customer references?
- How long have they been in business?
- Does the SDS platform come with a support package? Is that part of the agreement?
- Can you call the vendor 24/7 if there are technical issues?
- Does the vendor assign a team within their staff to support your account?
- In what ways will the vendor allow you to submit new and update (M)SDS?
- Are there charges for submitting new and updated SDS to the system?
- Can you add new locations to the system?
Ease of Use & Scalability
Large organization with a complex chemical footprint? Racks on rack of toxic substances, by the barrel? Or small business, just trying to stay compliant and short on time to negotiate the ins and outs of OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (1910.1200)? It doesn’t matter—everyone benefits from “software” that is simple and easy to use. “Usability” is a key area of focus for any buyer. You will want to be sure that potential providers show you thecurrent version of actual SDS management products used by actual customers. How else are you to make a comparison? A good start is get your organization a dummy account, to play around with, and encourage your team to try and break it. Apply it to your organizational, even in a limited sample size. Most providers will accommodate serious buyers this way.
- Does it come with a simple Right-To-Know access point?
- If so, does it meet EPCRA requirements?
- Is the system available to users without requiring a login/password?
- Does the system have an administrative access point?
- Is the safety data sheet management system intuitive?
- What modules and functions does it serve?
- Do these tools reduce the complexity of tasks being carried out by EHS Staff?
- Can the SDS platform grow with your organization?
Data & Storage
With online SDS management platforms, there’s a lot behind the scenes that may not be apparent to customers. You’ll want to ask about recordkeeping, offline backup and accessibility, server reliability, etc. These are kinds of things most prospective SDS management buyers don’t know to ask or care about, until something happens during the length of your contract, and you experience an interruption or fail of service that negatively impacts the safety of your workforce.
- Where is the data stored?
- Is it backed up and co-located?
- Are the servers redundant?
- Who is the service provider for their websites?
- What is the downtime percentage for their websites?
- Does the system have any hardware requirements?
- Are there any secondary software requirements?
Is the SDS Platform a Subscription model?
Most of the online SDS platform providers operate under a subscription model, typically involving annual agreements. There are some important considerations associated with this pricing model. With each provider, it is important to explore “terms & conditions”, implementation time, billing flexibility if available, and ask about hidden costs.
- If so, how many users get to access the SDS management system?
- Is there payment flexibility?
- What happens to your safety data sheet information at the end of the agreement?
- What kinds of services are available in the SDS subscription?
- Does the subscription cover updates and upgrades to the system? Or are those extras and upsells?
- Is the subscription transaction-based or annual in nature?
- Do they have packages that match functionality and data entry to meet your specific needs?
- Will the vendor adjust minor items in the system without a charge?
- How does the vendor pricing model cover supplemental requests or additional services?
Approach to Safety Data Sheet (SDS) Management
Most customers who are currently working with a provider for online SDS management have an unfortunate shared experience: it took forever to get up and running and far too much of their time. When you’re buying something to make your professional life easier, and help move your organization forward, you will want to be sure that what you’re signing up for doesn’t become some new, unneeded, time-consuming project unto itself. Remember that a SDS management system is supposed to simplify, not create complexity.
- How easy is it to get started? How much work do I have to do?
- Does the vendor provide an onsite inventory service?
- Can this be incorporated into your system implementation?
- Does this process incorporate associating product UPCs to the SDS collection?
- Will it provide you with on-hand inventory counts by location when complete?
- Can you add one facility at a time?
- Can you break the implementation into phases?
- Can the system be configured to allow multiple views based on organizational structure?
- Does this include divisional branding?
- Can the system be secured using IP Address Filtration and SSL Encryption?
- Does the SDS platform require assistance from your IT staff during or after installation?
- How are upgrades rolled out?
- Is anything required of you?
- Do you lose access to the system during the upgrade?
- Does it happen seamlessly?
- How often are new versions introduced?
- Do they come with training and documentation?
- Does the product come with training?
- If so, how much time is offered?
- Will the vendor do onsite and do training?
- Will they provide custom support documentation?
- Are there charges to adjust the look and feel of the system during or after implementation?
- Will the system/service allow you to own your data?
- What is the process for entering SDS information into the system?
- Does the provider perform audits on the data entry? If so, what is the process for SDS data capture?
- What data elements from the SDS can the vendor capture?
- Can you select a custom list of SDS data to be captured?
- Are there also predetermined SDS data packages to make the decision easier?
- Does the software have fields that accept input from users?
- Do users have access to the complete, original SDS document?
- How is duplication handled in the system?
- How long does the vendor keep archived SDS records?
- Does the vendor provide SDS data backups? If so, in what frequency?
- Does the backup allow users to access the SDS collection? If so, can the interface be installed on a network?
- What is the format of the data?
Many providers claim to have billions of safety data sheets in their inventory. Which is great, but you don’t need that many. Maybe you need 487 sheets with room to add a few more in the upcoming months. The ease with which you and your team can find and access the right safety data sheets is a big deal, no matter how many you. For large organizations with 1000s of SDSs, that is even more true. So be sure to get a full preview of searchability, and ask for a test drive. Search is probably the top utility for any online SDS management system.
- How strong is the SDS search engine?
- Are SDS search results weighted to show the most appropriate answers?
- What filters are in place to speed up success with the search experience?
- Can you export lists into MS Excel?
- Can you search by location?
- How deep is the location hierarchy in the engine?
- Can you search by ingredient?
- Can you cross-reference SDS against CAS-based regulatory lists?
- Can you dictate the output of the search results “on-the-fly”?
- Does the system allow you to look up SDS from other locations in your organization?