Safety data sheets (SDS) are a component of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. The system standardizes hazard classification criteria and chemical hazard communication elements around the world. While the GHS is not a regulation, it is a framework that guides manufacturers through classifying and labeling hazardous chemicals to better protect people and the environment from them. The GHS streamlines the classification and communication provisions for hazardous chemicals. Without it, one product requires multiple classifications, labels, and safety data sheets (SDS) because various countries’ regulatory systems differ so much.
Previously, safety data sheets functioned in the same way that the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) did in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Hazard Communication Standard. Today, OSHA’s HazCom Standard (HCS) aligns with the GHS and “provides a common and coherent approach to classifying chemicals and communicating hazard information on labels and safety data sheets. This update will also help reduce trade barriers and result in productivity improvements for American businesses that regularly handle, store, and use hazardous chemicals while providing cost savings for American businesses that periodically update safety data sheets and labels for chemicals covered under the hazard communication standard.” As OSHA aligned with the GHS, they mandated that safety data sheets now have a specified 16-section format. The safety data sheets themselves provide comprehensive information about substances or mixtures used in workplace chemical management.
Typically, a safety data sheet is used as an informational source about hazards, including environmental hazards, and to gather advice on safety precautions. It’s important to note that SDS relate more to products than to specific workplaces; yet, an SDS gives an employer the ability to develop an active program of worker protection measures and training that are specific to the workplace and to consider the measures that are necessary to protect the environment. Safety data sheets also provide critical information for emergency responders, poison centers, transportation companies that move hazardous chemicals, and professionals and consumers who use pesticides.
There are certain criteria for when a safety data sheet should be produced. Namely, an SDS is called for when substances and mixtures meet the harmonized criteria for physical, health, or environmental hazards under the GHS and when mixtures contain ingredients that are carcinogenic, harmful to reproduction, or toxic enough that they exceed limits for SDS as specified by the criteria for specific mixtures. Various authorities also may require a safety data sheet for mixtures that do not meet criteria for classification but that contain hazardous ingredients in certain concentrations.
The safety data sheet contains 16 sections. The format should not vary. The sections are as follows:
Keep in mind that the safety data sheet should provide clear information for each section and should contain at least the minimum information for each section. If specific information is not applicable or available, clearly state that on the SDS. It’s also important to know whether subheadings or additional information is required for national or regional areas and include it as well.