Submitted by Anne Bentley / Lewis & Clark College on Tue, 10/14/2008 - 20:17
My Notes

This is a short activity I developed to help my students interpret Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). Students rank unknown compounds from least safe to most safe, and the compounds' identities are revealed. The class discusses other factors to consider in evaluating the safety of an experiment. The "MSDS activity" word document contains a more full description.

Attachment Size
NFPA_symbol.doc 89 KB
MSDS_activity.doc 50 KB
Equipment needs


Implementation Notes

I've only done this in a class of six, but I think it could work for larger classes with some adjustments. The activity gets everyone talking to each other and standing up, which is always a plus.

Time Required
30 minutes (estimate)
Creative Commons License
Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share Alike CC BY-NC-SA
Kurt Birdwhistell / Loyola University New Orleans

I may try this activity with my lab students in the fall. 


Wed, 03/10/2010 - 10:53 Permalink
Chantal Stieber / Cal Poly Pomona

I taught this activity with a class of 27, and it worked very well. This was done in a new 2nd year Chemical Communication course we are developing. The first 1 hr. 50 min. class period was for safety topics. During this time, 40 min. was a prepared safety lecture. I split the class into four groups of 6-7 students for the SDS activity and added an additional chemical, acetone. It took groups about 20 minutes to discuss and rank the chemicals in order. I wrote the rankings from each group on the blackboard and used another 20 min. for students to briefly present properties. This was done by having all four students with chemical A stand up and each mention a few important criteria. Each student thus had a chance to briefly talk. At the end, I put the names of all the chemicals on the board and we had a discussion about how the order may change and how risks could be determined or mitigated. For example, 3 groups had placed acetone as the most dangerous.

At the end, I asked this was the highest level of detail with which they had looked at an SDS and all 27 (including seniors and research students) raised their hands. I also asked if there was anything they hadn't known about contained in the SDS and again, all 27 students raised their hands. 

I thought this was a very effective way to get students thinking about safety and learning about SDSs. I created digital versions of all the SDSs with the chemical information blacked out.

During the last 15 min. of class, students looked at safety scenarios in groups of 4 and each group briefly presented one scenario with response and prevention to the class. 

Fri, 08/24/2018 - 17:28 Permalink
Anne Bentley / Lewis & Clark College

I'm glad to hear you used / adapted the activity!  When I do it these days, I try to make sure I include various chemicals we'll be using throughout the semester.  (Maybe I said that in the original LO.)  And yes, students can be surprised by which ones sound the scariest.  It's a good chance to talk about dose at that point.

Our department is now incorporating the Global Harmonized System of classification, too, so we cover those symbols in safety training now, too. 

Wed, 08/29/2018 - 12:17 Permalink
Amanda Reig / Ursinus College

I did this as part of my first day of Inorganic Lab in the spring - students really enjoyed the activity!  Each lab group got an SDS for a chemical they would be using as part of the first experiment. The groups then each evaluated the SDS and shared with the class the major concerns and safety precautions they would use. They then did a rough ranking of most to least hazardous based on the information they had before I revealed the identity of the chemicals. I did not do any formal assessment, but I do think they were more engaged in future safety discussions and asked more safety related questions during future lab sessions.

Thu, 08/12/2021 - 10:43 Permalink