Understanding Safety Data Sheets

Posted by
Lance Roux
on Dec 1, 2022

Safety Data Sheets (SDS) are an unavoidable requirement to OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard, and one of the most important documents your facility should have. Even so, failing to keep data sheets of hazardous materials on record remains one of the top three most common OSHA citations businesses see. 

In order to avoid a costly citation, it’s imperative to maintain an organized inventory of all hazardous substances that need documentation and complete all 16 sections of your SDS fully. Let’s take a closer look at what exactly is required in an SDS and how to efficiently satisfy this OSHA standard without losing essential time. 

What are Safety Data Sheets (SDS)?

Safety Data Sheets document the properties of each potentially dangerous chemical workers may use, transport, or handle onsite. This standardized document should be the one place where all crucial chemical information is stored, making it easier for any employee to access quickly and effectively. 

Workers can use SDSs to easily find hazard classifications, actions to take during accidental spills or releases, personal protective measures, and precautions for handling, transporting, and storing chemicals safely. 

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Typically, generation of an SDS is handled by either the manufacturer, importer, or distributor of a chemical. To maintain the standard across all industries, the documentation must follow the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) and touch on 16 crucial sections. 

  1. Identification: Identify the chemicals on the SDS and the recommended uses. Include any essential contact information for the chemical supplier.
  2. Hazard Identification: Identify the hazards of the chemical(s) presented on the SDS. Include any appropriate warning information associated with these hazards.
  3. Composition/Information on Ingredients: Identify the ingredient(s) contained in the product, including impurities and stabilizing additives.
  4. First-Aid Measures: What initial care should be given to someone who has been exposed to the chemical? Assume the care will be given by untrained responders.
  5. Fire-Fighting Measures: Include recommendations for fighting a fire caused by the chemical, especially if standard suppressants like water will be insufficient. 
  6. Accidental Release Measures: Include recommendations on the appropriate response to accidental spills, leaks, or releases, including containment and cleanup and any other steps needed to minimize exposure to people, property, and the environment. 
  7. Handling and Storage: Include guidance for safe handling practices and conditions for safe storage of chemicals. 
  8. Exposure Controls/Personal Protection: What are the exposure limits, engineering controls, and personal protective measures that should be used to minimize worker exposure?
  9. Physical and Chemical Properties: Identify the physical and chemical properties associated with the chemical.
  10. Stability and Reactivity: What are the reactivity hazards? Include chemical stability information. 
  11. Toxicological Information: Identify any known toxicological and health effects, or indicate that such data is unknown or not available. 
  12. Ecological Information: Include evaluation of the environmental impact of the chemical if it were released into the environment.
  13. Disposal Considerations: Include guidance for proper disposal practices, recycling or reclamation of the chemical or its container, and safe handling practices to use while disposing. 
  14. Transport Information: Include any essential classification information needed for shipping and transporting the chemical by road, air, rail, or sea.
  15. Regulatory Information: Identify the safety, health, and environmental regulations specific to the chemical, if not already mentioned elsewhere in the SDS. 
  16. Other Information: Include any other crucial information not otherwise mentioned, including when the SDS was prepared or when the last known revision was made.

MSDS vs. SDS: What’s the Difference?

In the 1990s, OSHA turned their focus on the “Right to Know” initiative, as it became more and more apparent that workers were unknowingly being exposed to occupational risks. Part of this initiative resulted in the development of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), which would require facilities to provide information about every chemical used during their operations. 

While this initial step was imperative for the safety of future employees, it quickly became clear that guidelines for the format and enforcement of MSDSs were too loosely defined. OSHA continued to find that chemical data sheets could differ drastically between two facilities, often finding incomplete and poorly organized information.

In 2012, OSHA aligned with GHS to update their chemical safety and communications standards. Together, the two organizations transformed MSDS into SDS, where the informational data sheets were fully standardized on an international scale. This update is imperative in ensuring all facilities are being kept to the same standard as they work with highly hazardous chemicals that can put workers, the public, and our environment at risk.

Types of Safety Data Sheets

Safety data sheets are created by manufacturers, importers, and distributors of chemicals that are sent to customers. Any product that is considered a hazardous chemical, defined by the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) as any chemical which can cause a physical or health hazard, must have an SDS. 

Each type of chemical should have its own specific SDS, ensuring it is classified correctly. These manufacturers, importers, and distributors are also responsible for updating SDSs whenever a new development or change occurs regarding the classification of certain chemicals. 

Employers that receive these chemicals as part of their overall process, either as an ingredient in a final product or as a necessary step in the creation process, will receive these SDSs from the chemical supplier. In this way, requirements for maintaining and distributing SDSs extend to a variety of industries, including manufacturers of concrete mix, fertilizers, detergents, and so on.

While these employers do not hold responsibility for creating the original SDS, they must make the received SDS easily accessible to all employees. This includes translating the information into other languages, providing chemical safety training that interprets the SDS, and ensuring all employees understand the steps to take if exposed. 

Related Content: How to Conduct a Safety Training Needs Assessment


Partner with a Safety Professional for SDS Planning

Whether your business needs to develop Safety Data Sheets for chemicals supplied or share the SDS with onsite employees, it’s imperative that your SDS contains all the essential information in an easily accessible way. Maintaining the documentation and inventory itself, along with providing chemical safety training, developing required hazard signage onsite, and ensuring new hires and temporary workers are kept up-to-date, can be very time consuming.

Avoid paying OSHA upwards of thousands of dollars in citation fees and gain the help of a professional safety consultant. SafetyPro Resources can work with your business directly to streamline the entire SDS process, from inventory to training to developing the written safety program. Reach out today for a quick consultation and find out how our safety professionals can get you on track with hazardous chemical compliance and safety. 

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Tags: Safety Management, Job Site Safety, Reporting

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