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What Are Safety Data Sheets?

September 13, 2022

Both federal and state laws require that you have a safety data sheet (SDS) for each and every hazardous chemical you use or store on your business premises. 

Learn the answers to the most important questions about safety data sheets including:

  1. What is a safety data sheet?
  2. What is the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification?
  3. What information is contained on a safety data sheet?
  4. What are the sections of a safety data sheet?
  5. Where do you obtain a safety data sheet?
  6. Where should you keep safety data sheets?
  7. Are safety data sheets necessary for household items?
  8.  What’s the upshot?

1. What is a safety data sheet?

This piece of paper used to be called a material safety data sheet (MSDS). The name was changed by the EPA in 2012 to telegraph that it’s new and improved by way of “a consistent user-friendly, 16-section format.” Among the improvements and changes that became effective on December 1st, 2013:

  • Hazard classification—provides specific criteria for the classification of health and physical hazards, as well as the classification of mixtures
  • Labeling—chemical manufacturers and importers are required to provide a label that includes a harmonized signal word, pictogram, and hazard statement for each hazard class and category
  • Safety Data Sheets—now have a specified 16-section format
  • Information and training—employers are required to train workers on the new labels and format to facilitate recognition and understanding

2. What is the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification?

Safety data sheets are standardized under the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labeling Chemicals system, which was developed to provide consistent criteria for the classification of chemical hazards.

This system was adopted by the United Nations in 2003 and includes criteria for the classification of health, physical, and environmental hazards. It also specifies what information should be included on labels and safety data sheets for hazardous chemicals.

3. What information is contained in a safety data sheet?

A safety data sheet contains such data as:

  • The properties of each chemical
  • The physical, health, and environmental risks it poses
  • Protective measures you need to take
  • Safety precautions for its handling, storing, and transportation

OSHA regulations state that a safety data sheet for a hazardous chemical must be revised within three months after its manufacturer (or an employer) becomes aware of any significant new information concerning its hazards.

4. What are the sections of a safety data sheet?

A safety data sheet has 16 sections. Numbers 1 through 8 involve the chemical’s identification, hazards, composition, safe handling practices, and emergency control measures. Numbers 9 through 11, and 16, contain other technical and scientific information, such as physical and chemical properties, stability and reactivity information, toxicological information, and exposure control information. Sections 12 through 15 are included in order to be consistent with the GHS (see 2), but OSHA does not enforce the content. Other agencies do (see source).

The sections of a safety data sheet by number are:   

  1. Identifies the chemical, its recommended uses, and the essential contact information for the supplier
  2. Identifies the hazards the chemical presents and warning information thereto
  3. Identifies the ingredient(s) contained in the chemical, including impurities and stabilizing additives
  4. Describes the initial care that should be given by untrained responders to an individual who has been exposed to the chemical
  5. Provides recommendations for fighting a fire caused by the chemical
  6. Provides recommendations on the appropriate response to spills, leaks, or releases, including containment and cleanup practices to prevent or minimize exposure to people, properties, or the environment
  7.  Provides guidance on the safe handling practices and conditions for safe storage of chemicals
  8. Indicates the exposure limits, engineering controls, and personal protective measures that can be used to minimize worker exposure
  9.  Identifies physical and chemical properties associated with the substance or mixture
  10. Describes the reactivity hazards of the chemical and the chemical stability information
  11.  Identifies toxicological and health effects information or indicates that such data are not available
  12.  Provides information to evaluate the environmental impact of the chemical(s) if it were released into the environment
  13. Provides guidance on proper disposal practices, recycling or reclamation of the chemical(s) or its container, and safe handling practices
  14.  Provides guidance on classification information for shipping and transporting of hazardous chemical(s) by road, air, rail, or sea
  15. Identifies the safety, health, and environmental regulations specific to the product that is not indicated anywhere else on the SDS
  16. Indicates when the SDS was prepared or when the last known revision was made 

5. Where do you obtain a safety data sheet?

The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), a creature of OSHA, requires that the manufacturer, distributor, or importer of a chemical provide a safety data sheet for any hazardous chemical. In other words, it should be delivered to you with the chemical. If you do not have a safety data sheet, you should contact the manufacturer to obtain one.

6. Where should you keep safety data sheets?

You must have safety data sheets readily available to all employees who come into contact with hazardous chemicals in your workplace. 

Hardcopies can be kept in a binder and e-copies on a computer—just so long as employees have immediate access to them without needing to leave their work area. In the case of e-copies, hard copies must also be nearby in case of a power failure.

It’s a good idea to make responsible a specified person (or persons) for obtaining and maintaining safety data sheets (SDSs). 

7. Are safety data sheets necessary for household items?

Yes and no. If they are used the same way a consumer would, OSHA doesn’t require an SDS for household consumer products used in your workplace. This means they are used for the same purpose, duration, and frequency as they might be for home use. If you have an employee who exceeds this level of exposure, then an SDS is probably required.

8. What’s the upshot?

As they tend to come from more than one government bureaucracy at random intervals, environmental regulations are plentiful, evolving, and challenging to track. Ignoring or misunderstanding them can subject you to expensive and even criminal consequences. 

And poor employee training is one of the most frequently cited EPA violations. 

With all due respect to the relatively new 16-section format, safety data sheets can nonetheless be difficult to decipher without some expert guidance. You can get some here—or call Hazardous Waste Experts today at 800-936-2311.

And thank you for reading our blog!

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