What is an SDS? Everything You Need to Know — and More — About Safety Data Sheets

Many workers handle and work with hazardous (or potentially hazardous) chemicals on a daily basis, and it it's imperative that they keep themselves, their peers, and the surrounding environment safe. But where do they look to truly understand the risks associated with the solution, the proper protective measures that should be followed, and other information such as handling and storage details? That's where the SDS, or safety data sheet, comes in handy.

What is a safety data sheet? Specifically, it's a multi-section document that details the hazards of a substance and informs end users on other need-to-know information when working with, or handling, this substance. This post covers everything you need to know about an SDS from its basics, to the 16 sections it contains, to various challenges associated with it.

What is an SDS?

SDS stands for "Safety Data Sheet." Simply put, it's a standardized document that helps break down the specific hazards of a chemical, mixture, or solution. Beyond information about potential hazards a solution may pose, an SDS also includes information on what to do if an accident takes place.

The Safety Data Sheet is a one-stop, comprehensive source that offers information on the chemical solution. Ideally, it's reviewed thoroughly by the end user — whomever that end user may be — to ensure that the substance is handled correctly, and appropriate action can be taken in the event of a malfunction (i.e. a spill, cleanup, and first aid procedures). The SDS will also advise any users on the appropriate PPE to wear when handling the chemical (i.e., gloves, respirators, safety glasses, etc.).

According to OSHA's Hazardous Communication Standard, or HCS, chemical manufacturers, distributors, or importers are required to provide Safety Data Sheets to effectively communicate the potential implications for any hazardous chemical.


It's important to note the relationship between the SDS and the GHS, or Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling. The GHS dictates how the SDS is formatted and organized, which consists of 16 sections. The GHS also establishes the minimum information that needs to be included in each of the 16 sections. Just think of the GHS as the guiding source for how an SDS is organized and what type of information is included in it — especially as it pertains to standardizing the labeling for international distribution.

The Hazardous Products Act and SDSs

The Hazardous Product Act, or HPA, is a federal act that defines SDS requirements as a means of improving chemical safety. With the growth of global industries relying on the import and export of numerous substances, the HPA and SDSs are critical to the safety of all parties involved—from manufacturing to transport, distribution, and end-users.

Safety Data Sheet Sections

What information does an SDS contain? An SDS contains a wealth of information, and this information is detailed throughout 16 Safety Data Sheet sections. Here's a closer look at these sections and what you can expect to learn from each one:

Section 1: Identification

This section covers the chemical basics, its intended uses, and supplier contact information. This section also includes any synonyms or common names by which the substance is known.

Section 2: Hazard Identification

Section two of the SDS covers the hazards associated with the chemical. It includes the hazard classification, hazard statements, precautionary statements, pictograms, and warning information associated with the chemical’s hazards.

Section 3: Composition and Information on Ingredients

Any substances and ingredients in the chemical's makeup are included in Section 3 of the SDS. This information includes the chemical’s name, common names and synonyms, the Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) number, unique identifiers, impurities and stabilizing additives, the concentration of each ingredient, and more.

Section 4: First-Aid Measures

Should an end user come into contact with the chemical in an unsafe manner, certain care will need to be administered. This section covers the symptoms and effects that may be experienced as well as recommendations for any medical care and treatment that may come as a result of exposure. This also includes routes of exposure (inhalation, skin contact, eye contact, etc.).

Section 5: Fire Extinguishing Measures

If the chemical poses a flame threat, the fifth section of an SDS will detail how to properly extinguish any flames and the appropriate extinguishing equipment you'll want to have on hand in the event of an emergency. Information on specific hazards that result from the chemical igniting, such as vapors or gases, is also included.

Section 6: Accidental Release Safety Measures

Chemicals aren't immune to spills, leaks, or inadvertent release, so it's important to know the best cleanup practices to follow if this were to happen. This general safety information also applies to any hazardous chemical that you're working with; this will minimize the impact on people, property, products, and the surrounding environment. That's what Section 6 of the SDS will cover — best practices for mitigation in the event of an accidental release. This section includes emergency procedures such as evacuations, appropriate PPE, methods and materials used for containment, cleanup procedures, and more.

Section 7: Safe Handling and Storage

When the chemical is not in use, it will need to be properly stored. This section includes storage recommendations. It also details handling recommendations to ensure safety best practices are followed when it is being used.

Section 8: Exposure Controls and Personal Protection

From wearing the right PPE to limit the impact of any potential exposure to ventilation recommendations, to exposure limits, Section eight of the SDS covers what you need to know to stay safe when using a particular chemical. This includes OSHA Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs), Threshold Limit Values (TLVs), and any other exposure limit recommended by the chemical manufacturer, importer, or employer.

Section 9: Physical and Chemical Properties

From appearance to odor, to pH, to relative density, this section covers all physical and chemical properties that define the solution. Manufacturers are required to meet minimum requirements and may also include other details, such as explosive potential, dust indexes, evaporation rate, auto-ignition temperature, melting point, flashpoint, solubility(ies), and more.

Section 10: Stability and Reactivity

Is the chemical stable or unstable? What's the hazard potential of the solution? Section 10 includes information on this, as well as reactivity, conditions that should be avoided, incompatible materials, decomposition byproducts that may be produced due to use, storage, or heating, and more.

Section 11: Toxicology Information

In addition to covering the symptoms associated with inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact, this section of the SDS also covers the short-term and long-term effects that may be associated with exposure.

Section 12: Ecological Details

Section 12 specifically covers any harm that could take place should a chemical be released into the environment, including the impact on aquatic wildlife, terrestrial wildlife, impact on soil conditions and groundwater, and more.

Section 13: Disposal

Proper disposal of hazardous substances is crucial, and this section of the SDS covers the containers to use, the best disposal practices to follow, recycling and reuse information, and more.

Section 14: Transportation Information

Wondering what the best way to transport the chemical is or the best practices for doing so by air, sea, rail and road? That's where Section 14 comes in handy.

Section 15: Regulatory Information

This section essentially includes any additional regulatory information that isn't included in any other section of the SDS such as OSHA, Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, and/or Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations.

Section 16: Other Information

Revisions are often added to the SDS over time, and this section often details the last revised date as well as other information that end users may need to know about a particular substance that isn't included in any of the other sections.

SDS Challenges

The SDS is not without its challenges. For instance, while the information displayed on the SDS is comprehensive and thorough, many end users see it as nothing more than a formality and don't take the time to review the information. In fact, an average workplace can deal with more than 100 SDSs. If one SDS is about 12 pages long, that's roughly 1,200 pages of information that end users should review before handling any of the chemicals. Needless to say, that's a lot of information to take in and retain, and it can lead to skimming and subjecting a workplace and its workers to risk. In fact, in some workplaces, an SDS may not even be reviewed until it's necessary (i.e., if there was a spill or a worker came into contact with a substance).

Additionally, some chemicals may not be covered by the regulations that govern certain solutions, which can lead to a lack of clarity in the SDS.

Finally, there are challenges on the manufacturer's side as well. According to regulations, manufacturers must update their SDS within 90-days of becoming aware of relevant information that impacts the way the solution is handled, stored, or used. However, this is a difficult deadline for many chemical manufacturers to meet. It can also become a challenge for end users to stay up to date on the latest changes and information included in the SDS over time.

Now that you know more about what a Safety Data Sheet is, you should recognize just how important it is to review and retain the information that it contains. This is where workplaces and end users come in. The manufacturer can do its job in providing the information in the SDS — but it's up to those who handle the chemicals to review it and apply the information for proper handling and disposal.

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