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What You Need To Know About Chemical Safety Data Sheets

Posted by Craig Morgan on Apr 17, 2024 9:29:39 PM

What are Safety Data Sheets (SDS)? And what is the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS)?

How do chemical manufacturers, suppliers and users communicate chemical hazards and handing information to each other across the globe?  The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) is a United Nations led international system provides a consistent approach to classifying and communicating the hazards of chemicals ensuring that chemicals are evaluated using the same criteria regardless of country, resulting in standardized labels and Safety Data Sheets (SDS).  

The GHS is the culmination of more than a decade of work. There were many individuals involved, from a multitude of countries, international organizations and other stakeholders. Their expertise spanned a wide gamut of subject matter expert areas including toxicology and fire protection. The GHS improves safety for workers around the world by ensuring they understand the risks associated with the chemicals they handle. GHS also simplifies international trade by eliminating the need for companies to re-label chemicals for different countries. There is currently a GHS Sub-Committee that is responsible for maintaining the GHS, promoting its implementation, and providing additional guidance as needs arise. The GHS guidance document is regularly revised and updated to reflect best practices and regulations. The latest version of the GHS guidance can be found here

Safety Data Sheets (SDS) are critical for anyone who handles chemicals, from scientists in chemical laboratories to house cleaners using disinfectants. An SDS provides important information about a chemical's properties, hazards, and safe handling practices. In short, it's your guide to using chemicals safely and effectively.

What is the composition of a Safety Data Sheet?

An SDS is a comprehensive guide for storing and handling a chemical. Here's a breakdown of the key sections:

  • Identification: This section gives you the chemical or product name, its intended uses, and the supplier contact details including emergency phone number. It also clarifies any restrictions on how the chemical should be used.
  • Hazard(s) Identification: This section details the hazards of the chemical, including its classification (flammable, toxic, etc.), pictograms that illustrate these hazards, and specific GHS hazard statements and standardized codes that communicate the risks of exposure to the user.
  • Composition/Information on Ingredients: This section reveals the ingredients that make up the chemical, including synonyms and chemical formulas. It highlights any substances that pose risks.
  • First-Aid Measures: Here's where to find critical information on what to do in case of accidental exposure to the chemical, including inhalation, skin contact, ingestion, and eye contact.
  • Fire-Fighting Measures: If a fire breaks out, this section provides guidance on the best way to extinguish it, what specific hazards to be aware of from the burning chemical, and the recommended protective actions and gear for firefighters.
  • Accidental Release Measures:  This section outlines the steps to take in case of an accidental release, including how to protect yourself, the environment, and how to clean up the spill safely.
  • Handling and Storage: Learn how to handle the chemical safely during everyday use and how to store it properly to prevent incidents or degradation.
  • Exposure Controls/Personal Protection: This section details the occupational exposure limits (OELs) for the chemical and recommends appropriate engineering controls or personal protective equipment (PPE) to minimize exposure risks.
  • Physical and Chemical Properties: Familiarize yourself with the chemical's basic properties like appearance, odor, boiling point, and flash point in this section. 
  • Stability and Reactivity: This section explains how stable the chemical is and what conditions could trigger hazardous reactions. It also identifies incompatible materials to avoid storing near the chemical.
  • Toxicological Information: This section includes details on the potential health effects of exposure to the chemical, including both acute (such as irritation) and chronic (such as carcinogenicity) effects.
  • Ecological Information: This section focuses on the chemical's impact on the environment, including its toxicity to aquatic and terrestrial organisms, its persistence, and how it moves through the soil.
  • Disposal Considerations: This section provides guidance on proper waste treatment methods and how to handle contaminated waste containers.
  • Transport Information: If you need to transport the chemical, this section provides information on UN identification numbers, shipping classifications, and any special precautions for transport.
  • Regulatory Information: This section details relevant safety, health, and environmental regulations governing the specific chemical.
  • Other Information: This section might include the date of the latest SDS revision, additional safety advice, and references for further information.

The GHS uses a set of pictograms to visually communicate hazards.

Taken from: https://www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/publications/OSHA3491QuickCardPictogram.pdf 



The SDS should provide comprehensive information about a substance or mixture for use in workplace chemical control regulatory frameworks. Both employers and workers use it as a source of information about hazards, including environmental hazards, and to obtain advice on safety precautions. This information is a reference for the management of hazardous chemicals in the workplace. An SDS should be produced for all substances and mixtures which meet the harmonized criteria for physical, health, or environmental hazards under the GHS and for all mixtures which contain ingredients that meet the criteria for carcinogenic, toxic to reproduction or specific target organ toxicity in concentrations exceeding the cut-off limits for SDS specified in the GHS guidance.  SDSs are often mandated by regulations, and having them on-hand ensures compliance.  The information in an SDS is valuable for risk assessments and training programs, promoting an overall safer work environment. Other factors to manage with SDSs at your organization are:  

  • Accessibility and Understanding: Many employers provide SDSs electronically in a centralized system that is accessible to all employees and/or they keep paper copies. Familiarize yourself with how to access and read an SDS. SciShield can help you manage and access SDS documents electronically, thereby ensuring you always have the most up to date SDSs onhand.
  • Changes to an SDS: Regulations and toxicological understanding of chemicals can evolve. It's crucial to ensure the Safety Data Sheets in your inventory are up to date. Suppliers should also periodically review the information on which the SDS for a substance or mixture is based, even if no new and significant information has been provided. This requires searching chemical hazard databases for new information. Typically, suppliers should review SDS information every 3 to 5 years. 
  • Creating and Managing SDS: If you're a chemical manufacturer or distributor, there are resources to create and manage your SDSs. 

Schedule a demo with us here to learn more.