Many workers – and other end users – handle hazardous substances on a daily basis but how do they know how to keep themselves safe around these chemicals? Safety training is a great start, but to be prudent, sheets with all the info and emergency protocols are a sure way to guarantee proper handling. Formerly called a “material safety data sheet (MSDS)”, a safety data sheet (SDS) is a standardized document that describes the hazards presented by any solution, mixture, or chemical. The information on a safety data sheet not only tells workers how to avoid exposure but also what to do in the case of an accident – and much more.

Explore this Article:

  1. What is a Safety Data Sheet (SDS)?
  2. Why Safety Data Sheets are So Important
  3. What Information do Safety Data Sheets Include?
  4. A Few Notes on Safety Data Sheet Compliance
  5. Safety Data Sheets are a Crucial Part of Workplace Safety

What is a Safety Data Sheet (SDS)?

Whenever a chemical importer, distributor, or manufacturer sends their products to end users, they’re required to include accurate, up-to-date safety data sheets. Each sheet includes 16 sections, which outline details such as the substance’s ingredients, first aid measures, health effects of exposure, and so on.

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling (GHS) determines how these sheets are formatted; it isn’t mandated for any country, but most of them follow these guidelines all the same. Version 7 of the GHS has already been approved in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, these countries have already implemented previous versions of the GHS. Version 7 vs the current versions have just minor variations.

Why Safety Data Sheets are So Important

Hazardous substances are present in many different workplaces, from construction sites to high-tech labs. Even industrial cleaning products can be incredibly dangerous. Sure, some are riskier than others in terms of potential exposure to hazardous substances, but safety data sheets are meant to reduce that risk no matter what substance workers are dealing with. Here are a couple of examples of how that could work:

  • Increasing numbers of construction workers are complaining of breathing difficulties. After double-checking the SDS of several different construction materials, it’s found that one of them recommends dust masks to prevent toxic levels of exposure and subsequent lung-related ailments. The recommended Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is provided to workers, and the instances of breathing difficulties are sharply reduced.
  • A lab is installing a new ventilation system to ensure that certain gases don’t reach unsafe concentrations in the air. After looking over the SDSs of all the substances they’re trying to filter out, it’s discovered that the ventilation system’s fan motors have to be non-sparking in order to prevent an accidental fire.

These are just a couple of illustrations; the real-life applications of safety data sheets are practically innumerable. And with OSHA’s #5 safety violation in 2021 being Hazard Communication – which includes missing safety data sheets – it’s clear that many workplaces aren’t relying on SDSs as much as they should be.

Firefighter ecologist fighting fire in field. Man in protective suit and gas mask near burning grass with smoke, holding warning sign with skull and crossbones. Natural disaster concept.

What Information do Safety Data Sheets Include?

As mentioned above, every safety data sheet that follows GHS guidelines will include 16 different sections – here’s what each section contains.

  1. Identification – All the basics are covered in the identification section, such as common names or synonyms of the substance’s name, supplier contact information, and intended uses.
  2. Hazard Classification – This covers the substance’s hazard classification, warning information, pictograms, precautionary statements, and hazard statements.
  3. Composition and information on ingredients – This section includes the substance’s name (plus common names and synonyms), Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) number, the concentration of every ingredient, stabilizing additives and impurities, unique identifiers, and more.
  4. First-aid measures – This section states the symptoms that can occur after exposure, recommendations for medical care or treatment, and the typical routes of exposure (through contact with eyes or skin, through inhalation, etc.).
  5. Fire extinguishing measures – If applicable, this section includes a description of the necessary extinguishing techniques and equipment to put out a fire caused by the substance. Section 5 also includes data on any hazards that can result from igniting the chemical, such as toxic gases or fumes.
  6. Accidental release safety measures – Includes recommended emergency procedures such as cleanup, containment materials and methods, appropriate PPE, and evacuations if needed.
  7. Safe handling and storage – States Handling and storage recommendations to mitigate the risk of accidental exposure.
  8. Exposure controls and personal protection (PPE) – This section provides Threshold Limit Values (TLVs), OSHA Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs), and recommended PPE.
  9. Physical and chemical properties – Provides all chemical and physical properties by which the solution can be identified, such as relative density, pH, odor, appearance, and more. Other details may also be included, like solubility, flashpoint, melting point, auto-ignition temperature, evaporation rate, dust indexes, or explosive potential.
  10. Stability and reactivity – Contains information on whether or not the chemical is stable, as well as its overall hazard potential. This section also includes data on potential decomposition byproducts, incompatible materials, reactivity, and more.
  11. Toxicology information – States details on the possible short- and long-term effects of exposure, and the symptoms that result after contact with eyes or skin, ingestion, and inhalation.
  12. Ecological details – Highlights the impact of the substance’s release into the environment, such as its effect on groundwater, soil conditions, terrestrial and aquatic wildlife, and more.
  13. Disposal – Includes descriptions of the proper containers that should be used, disposal best practices, reuse and recycling information, and more.
  14. Transportation information – Provides recommendations for safely transporting the substance by road, rail, sea, and air.
  15. Regulatory information – Includes any regulatory details that weren’t covered in other sections of the SDS, such as EPA, DOT, or OSHA regulations.
  16. Other information – States the date of the last revision, as well as any other data that wasn’t covered in the sections above.

A Few Notes on Safety Data Sheet Compliance

Let’s say that an organization has received safety data sheets along with any substance that requires one – so far so good. What happens next? The SDSs should be stored, either physically or digitally, in a place that can be easily accessed by employees. If the organization receives updated safety data sheets from its suppliers, the new information should be reviewed with workers (if applicable). It’s also important for employee safety training to include crucial data listed on SDSs, such as emergency response procedures (evacuation, first aid, fire extinguishing measures, etc.).

Safety Data Sheets are a Crucial Part of Workplace Safety

These documents can be quite long, and many workplaces have more than just a couple of them on file. Even though including all that information in employee safety training is a tall order, the payoff is well worth the effort. When used as intended, safety data sheets will do more than just help employees respond to workplace incidents. They’ll also enable employees to prevent some of those incidents from happening in the first place, which is one of the main goals of workplace safety.