Guide to Understanding Safety Data Sheets (SDS)

The International Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) mandates that chemical manufacturers must communicate a chemical’s hazard information to chemical handlers by providing a Safety Data Sheet (SDS). Safety data sheets were formerly referred to as Material Safety Data Sheets or MSDS’s. The following is a short guide to understanding the new SDS standard.

What is the difference between an MSDS and the new SDS’s?

First, the information contained in the newer SDS’s is similar to what was contained in MSDS’s; however, SDSs are presented in a standardized user-friendly 16-section format. Second, SDS’s adhere to the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). The GHS system is an international standard so the SDS that a US chemical handler reads is substantially similar to the SDS that a chemical handler in Europe or Asia might read.

What is GHS?

GHS is a set of international guidelines that were developed by the United Nations. These guidelines were created to ensure the safe manufacturing, handling, use, disposal, and transport of hazardous materials. The GHS system is used to:

  1. Classify chemical data and hazard criteria.
  2. Identify a chemical’s health, physical, and environmental hazards.
  3. Provide chemical manufacturers and distributors with a well-defined system to communicate a chemical’s hazard information and protective measures.

Safety Data Sheet Implementation Timeline

  • The deadline for companies to train their employees on GHS label changes and GHS SDS requirements was on December 1, 2013.
  • The deadline for manufacturers to convert from MSDS to SDS is June 1, 2015. The one exception is that distributors, not manufacturers, may ship products that were labeled by manufacturers under the old MSDS system up until December 1, 2015.
  • Starting on June 1, 2016, employers must update workplace labeling and their hazard communication programs. Employers must also provide additional employee training for newly identified physical or health hazards.

SDS’s Contain 16 Distinct Sections

The early sections of an SDS (sections one through eight) focus on quick access to essential information that might be required by chemical handlers (for safe handling practices) or by emergency response personnel, e.g., fire fighters. Sections nine through eleven contain technical and scientific data, e.g., stability, reactivity, physical & chemical properties, etc. Sections twelve through fifteen are not mandatory; however, they are required to be fully GHS compliant. The last section, section sixteen, contains information about the SDS itself, e.g., the revision date and changes since the last version. Here is a breakdown of the information that each of the sixteen sections convey:

  1. The product and company identification section includes basic product identification information including the manufacturer’s and/or distributor’s name, address, phone number, recommended uses and use restrictions.
  2. The hazards identification section includes the chemical’s hazards as well as required label elements.
  3. The composition information section contains information about the chemical’s ingredients.
  4. The first-aid measures section includes information relating to symptoms and first-aid treatment.
  5. The fire-fighting measures section specifies the suitable extinguishing techniques and equipment, special fire-related hazards, and advice for firefighters.
  6. The accidental release measures section lists emergency procedures, protective equipment and proper containment and cleanup methods.
  7. The handling and storage section lists precautions for safe handling and storage (including incompatibilities).
  8. The exposure controls and personal protection section specifies permissible exposure limits (PELs), threshold limit values (TLVs), personal protective equipment (PPE), and appropriate engineering controls.
  9. The physical and chemical properties section provides basic physical and chemical properties information, e.g., appearance, pH, melting point, etc.
  10. The stability and reactivity section specifies the chemical’s reactivity and stability properties.
  11. The toxicological information section includes numerical measures of toxicity as well as information on toxicological effects including routes of exposure, related symptoms, acute and chronic effects.
  12. The ecological information section provides information relating to the chemical’s ecological toxicity, persistence and degradability, bio-accumulative potential, mobility in soil, and PBT and vPvB assessment results. Section 12 is not a mandatory section.
  13. The disposal considerations section provides information about waste treatment methods and containment packaging. Section 13 is not a mandatory section.
  14. The transport information section contains DOT (US), IMDG, and IATA transportation information. Section 14 is not a mandatory section.
  15. The regulatory information section identifies safety, health, and environmental regulations that were not listed in any of the previous sections. Section 15 is not a mandatory section.
  16. The other information section includes the latest revision date. This section may also specify where changes were made (relative to the previous version).

SDS Information for Employers

Employers must ensure that employees have access to safety data sheets for all of the hazardous chemicals they handle. Employers may fulfill this requirement in a variety of ways. For example, SDS binders are quite common as are computer based SDS databases. What’s important is that employees have access to the safety data sheets for all of the chemicals that they are using. If the employer does not have an SDS for one of these chemicals they should contact the manufacturer to obtain the current version of the SDS for that chemical. In this sense, the online SDS databases have a clear advantage over binder-based systems since the database vendor usually takes care of indexing and updating the safety data sheets.

Chemical Safety’s EH&S Software is SDS and GHS Compliant

Chemical Safety has implemented the SDS and GHS standards in its Environmental Management System (EMS) software product. EMS can be accessed as a cloud-based web application or via our iOS and Android EH&S mobile tools for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. SDS documents and GHS labels can be viewed or printed. Click here for a 30-day free trial of our EMS web application, or download the iOS or Android applications from the iTunes store, Google Play Store, or Amazon.