A Definition of Safety Data Sheet
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.
The Purpose of Safety Data Sheets
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.
Safety Data Sheet Format and Content
The safety data sheet contains 16 sections. The format should not vary. The sections are as follows:
- Identification – Identify the chemicals on the SDS and recommended uses along with contact information for the supplier
- Hazard(s) identification – Identify the hazards of the chemical and the necessary warning information associated with them
- Composition/information on ingredients – Identify the ingredient(s) contained in the product including impurities and stabilizers
- First-aid measures – Describe initial care to be provided by untrained responders to an individual who has been exposed to the chemical
- Fire-fighting measures – Provide recommendations for fighting a fire caused by the chemical
- Accidental release measures – Provide recommendations on responses to spills, leaks, or releases including containment and clean-up practices to prevent or minimize exposure to people, places, and the environment
- Handling and storage – Provide guidance on safe handling practices and safe storage conditions
- Exposure controls/personal protection – Indicate the exposure limits, engineering controls, and personal protective measures to use to minimize exposures
- Physical and chemical properties – Identify physical and chemical properties associated with the substance or mixture
- Stability and reactivity – Describe the reactivity hazards of the chemical and chemical stability
- Toxicological information – Provide toxicological and health effects information or indicate if data are not available
- Ecological information – Provide information to evaluate the environmental impact of the chemical if it should be released to the environment
- Disposal considerations – Provide guidance on proper disposal practices, recycling, or reclamation of the chemical to its container as well as safe handling practices
- Transport information – Provide guidance on classification information for shipping and transporting hazardous chemicals by road, air, rail, or sea
- Regulatory information – Identify the safety, health, and environmental regulations specific for the product that is not indicated elsewhere on the SDS
- Other information – Indicate when the SDS was prepared and when the last revision was made
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.