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Safety Data Sheets for Hazardous Substances: Essential Information for Users

The following article will provide essential information on safety data sheets for handling hazardous substances safely. This comprehensive guide will delve into the critical information on a safety data sheet about taking dangerous substances. We will cover everything from legal foundations and user obligations to the contents of the sheets and their practical interpretation.

Understanding and implementing the insights from these sheets are essential for ensuring your safety and adequately handling hazardous substances. Let's navigate the important aspects together to empower you with the knowledge necessary for a secure and informed approach.


A Safety Data Sheet contains comprehensive information about a hazardous substance or mixture. In addition to the physical and chemical properties, the Safety Data Sheet also includes information about potential risks to health and the environment and guidelines for the safe handling, storage, and disposal of the product.

Safety Data Sheets are indispensable sources of information that allow:

  • Correct identification of a hazardous substance or mixture

  • Recognition of potential hazards

  • Implementation of appropriate safety measures.

Safety Data Sheets are created by the manufacturers or suppliers of hazardous substances and represent a legal obligation. Through detailed information on the composition, hazard identification, and safety measures, Safety Data Sheets provide an essential basis for risk assessment and protecting people, the environment, and the public.


Safety Data Sheets are governed by a series of global and regional regulations aimed at ensuring the safe handling of hazardous substances. We've summarized some of the key legal foundations for you:

GHS (Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals)

GHS stands for the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. It's a framework aimed at standardizing how chemicals are classified and labeled globally. Its primary objective is to set out criteria for categorizing health, physical, and environmental hazards and to specify the essential information required on hazard labels and safety data sheets. GHS serves as a global guideline, encouraging countries to integrate hazard classes and categories into their laws.

The United Nations adopted GHS after the 1992 UN Conference on the Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Collaborating with the International Labour Organization (ILO), The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and various governments worldwide, the goal was to establish and promote a universal standard for classifying health, physical, and environmental hazards.

Classification, Labeling, and Packaging Regulation (CLP Regulation):

As per the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the GHS labeling system is a systematic and inclusive approach. It encompasses defining the health, physical, and environmental risks associated with chemicals, establishing classification methods that utilize existing chemical data to match specified hazard criteria, and effectively conveying hazard details and protective measures through GHS labels and Safety Data Sheets (SDS).

Enforcement Memos:

The United States Department of Labor released a memo on February 9, 2015, called "Enforcement Guidance for the Hazard Communication Standard’s (HCS) June 1, 2015 Effective Date." This memo outlines how the Department of Labor plans to enforce the Hazard Communication Standard and how the June 1, 2015, effective date will affect manufacturers, distributors, and employers.

OSHA 1910.1200(a):

This occupational safety and health standard aims to comprehensively tackle the classification of potential chemical hazards and communicate related information and protective measures to employees. It seeks to preclude any state or local regulations regarding this matter. It covers various provisions such as establishing a written hazard communication program for workplaces, labeling containers of chemicals, distributing safety data sheets, and implementing employee training programs. Section 18 of the Act prohibits states or localities from enforcing regulations on this issue unless they are part of a federally approved state plan.

OSHA Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals (PSM) standard (29 C.F.R. § 1910.119):

This updated memorandum replaces the previous one from June 5, 2015, with more explicit guidance and additional information and introduces a new interim citation policy. It explains OSHA's enforcement approach regarding the chemical concentration required within a process to determine if it meets or exceeds the threshold quantity outlined in Appendix A of the Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals (PSM) standard (29 C.F.R. § 1910.119). This guidance was formulated following the President's Executive Order 13650, issued on August 1, 2013, to enhance chemical facility safety and security.

OSHA’s New Enforcement Policy: the One Percent Test:

To address hazards linked to mixtures of highly hazardous chemicals listed in Appendix A, OSHA has rescinded the previous policy regarding maximum commercial or pure grades of chemicals. Instead, it has adopted a one percent threshold, aligning with the EPA's approach. The new enforcement policy outlines that for a process involving a chemical listed in Appendix A:

  • Employers should calculate the total weight of a chemical in the process at or above the concentration specified in Appendix A.

  • For chemicals without specified concentrations, calculate the total weight present in the process at a concentration of one percent or higher unless the partial pressure of the chemical in the vapor space is below 10 millimeters of mercury under handling or storage conditions. Employers must document this partial pressure determination.

  • When determining the weight of a chemical in a mixture, only the importance of the chemical itself (excluding any solvent, solution, or carrier) should be considered.

Who creates safety data sheets? What responsibilities do users have?

The responsibilities regarding safety data sheets for hazardous substances fall on various actors across the supply chain, including manufacturers, distributors, and users.

Manufacturers of hazardous substances must create safety data sheets according to the current legal requirements and provide them with the product without being prompted. These safety data sheets must contain all relevant information about the hazardous substance, including its properties, hazards, safe handling, storage, disposal, and necessary measures to address deviations from the regular operation. These deviations could include fires, unintended releases, skin contact, inhalation, or ingestion. Manufacturers are also responsible for updating the safety data sheets when new information becomes available or the substance's hazards change.

Distributors, in turn, are responsible for passing on the current safety data sheets received from manufacturers to their customers. They should ensure the safety data sheets are easily accessible and comply with legal requirements.

Users are responsible for reading, understanding, and implementing the information provided in the safety data sheets. In this regard, employers or assigned safety officers must, based on the safety data sheets (SDS) and processes, conduct risk assessments to develop operational instructions and emergency plans to minimize potential risks as effectively as possible. Employees must strictly adhere to these directives to ensure workplace safety and health. This includes knowledge about the potential hazards of used hazardous substances, correct handling, personal protective equipment, storage, and disposal. Regular safety training is crucial for the sustainable implementation of these measures! It's important to note that as a user, relying solely on the supplier's responsibility is insufficient. An up-to-date version of the respective safety data sheet must always be used for risk assessments. The user must verify the safety data sheet for incomplete, contradictory, or incorrect information. If necessary, the correct safety data sheet must be requested from the supplier. If the user doesn’t receive the required information, they must obtain it themselves or assume the presence of hazards for which no information is available and establish appropriate measures. The mandatory hazardous substance register maintained by the user must reference the corresponding safety data sheets.

All stakeholders in the supply chain must archive safety data sheets for at least ten years and provide them to a competent authority upon request.

Adhering to these responsibilities ensures the safety of employees, environmental protection, and compliance with applicable regulations.

Summarized Duties for Various Parties

Manufacturer Responsibilities Retailer Responsibilities User Responsibilities
Proper Creation of the Safety Data Sheet in Accordance with Applicable Legal Regulations Passing on the safety data sheet to their customers Acquisition of the safety data sheet
Provision with the Product Without Prompting Ensuring easy accessibility Plausibility check
Updating in case of changes or new information becoming available Archiving for a minimum of 10 years Implementation of the contained information into practice (risk assessment, protective measures, operational instructions)
Archiving for at least 10 years Archiving for at least 10 years


The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) mandates that chemical manufacturers, distributors, or importers furnish Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), previously termed Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs), to convey the dangers of hazardous chemical products. This standard necessitates new SDSs to follow a standardized format, encompassing section numbers, designated headings, and pertinent details categorized under the following headings:

Section 1: Identification

Section 1 of the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) serves to identify the chemical or mixture, outlining its recommended applications and essential supplier details. It includes the product identifier used on the label, alternative names or synonyms for the substance, comprehensive contact information for the manufacturer, importer, or responsible party, and an emergency contact number. Additionally, this section outlines the recommended use of the chemical, offering a concise description of its purpose, such as flame retardancy, and any associated usage limitations or supplier recommendations.

Section 2: Hazard(s) Identification

This section of the SDS details the hazards associated with the chemical and offers necessary warning information. It includes the hazard classification, like 'flammable liquid' or 'category 1,' indicating the level of risk. The signal word, such as 'Danger' or 'Warning,' reflects the severity of the hazards. Hazard statements outline specific dangers, accompanied by pictograms or symbols representing these hazards, either visually or described in words. Precautionary statements guide safe handling or usage. Additionally, any risks not explicitly classified are described. For mixtures containing ingredients with unknown toxicity, an argument specifies the percentage of the mix with these ingredients. Importantly, this percentage applies to the entire variety, not individual components.

Section 3: Composition/Information on Ingredients

This section of the SDS outlines the ingredients within the product, encompassing impurities, stabilizing additives, and substances subject to trade secret claims. It provides in-depth information on substances, mixtures, and any chemicals where a trade secret is asserted. For imports, it includes the chemical name, common names or synonyms, unique identifiers like CAS numbers, and details on impurities or stabilizing additives contributing to the chemical's classification. Similar information is required in the case of mixtures, specifying the chemical names and exact percentages of ingredients classified as health hazards, whether above or below certain concentration limits. Concentration ranges can be used under specific circumstances, like trade secret claims, batch variations, or when the SDS applies to similar mixtures. For chemicals subject to trade personal claims, it necessitates a statement acknowledging the withholding of specific chemical identities or exact compositions.

Section 4: First-Aid Measures

This section of the SDS delineates the initial care for individuals exposed to the chemical, particularly for untrained responders. It includes essential first-aid instructions for various exposure routes like inhalation, skin or eye contact, and ingestion. Additionally, it details crucial symptoms or effects, highlighting any acute or delayed symptoms. Recommendations for immediate medical attention and specialized treatments are also provided when required.

Section 5: Fire-Fighting Measures

This section offers guidelines for addressing fires resulting from the chemical. It includes recommendations on appropriate extinguishing equipment and specifies unsuitable methods for particular situations. Additionally, it provides advice regarding specific hazards emerging from the chemical during fires, like hazardous combustion by-products produced when the chemical burns. Moreover, it outlines suggestions for special protective gear or precautions essential for firefighters in these situations.

Section 6: Accidental Release Measures

This section offers guidance on responding to spills, leaks, or releases of chemicals, aiming to contain and clean-up to minimize exposure to individuals, properties, and the environment. It may differentiate between responses for small and large spills where the volume significantly impacts the hazard level. It may include recommendations for personal precautions and protective gear to prevent skin, eye, or clothing contamination. Emergency procedures, like evacuation guidelines and consulting experts, could be outlined, along with specific methods and materials for containment, such as covering drains or implementing capping procedures. Moreover, it provides detailed cleanup procedures, including techniques for neutralization, decontamination, and the necessary equipment or materials for containment and cleanup processes.

Section 7: Handling and Storage

This section furnishes advice on the safe practices for handling chemicals and the appropriate storage conditions. It includes precautions for secure handling, emphasizing the management of incompatible chemicals, minimizing environmental release, and advocating general hygiene practices like prohibiting eating, drinking, or smoking in work areas. Additionally, it offers recommendations for safe storage conditions, detailing any incompatibilities and specifying particular storage requirements such as ventilation needs.

Section 8: Exposure Controls/Personal Protection

This section outlines exposure limits, engineering controls, and personal protective measures to minimize worker exposure to chemicals. It includes OSHA Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs), American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) Threshold Limit Values (TLVs), and other recommended exposure limits provided by the chemical manufacturer, importer, or employer. Additionally, it details appropriate engineering controls, like local exhaust ventilation or enclosed systems, to manage exposure. The section also offers recommendations for personal protective measures, specifying the required personal protective equipment (PPE) such as eye, face, skin, or respiratory protection based on potential hazards and exposure. Moreover, it may outline specific requirements for PPE, protective clothing, or respirators, including details like glove material type (e.g., PVC or nitrile rubber gloves) and breakthrough time of the material.

Section 9: Physical and Chemical Properties

This section details the physical and chemical properties of the substance or mixture. It includes characteristics like appearance, flammability/explosive limits, odor, vapor pressure, density, boiling and freezing points, solubility, pH, and viscosity. While the SDS should cover these properties, it may not include every item if the information isn't applicable or unavailable. In such cases, a note should indicate the omission of that particular property. Additionally, manufacturers might incorporate other pertinent properties, such as the dust deflagration index (Kst), to assess dust's explosiveness.

Section 10: Stability and Reactivity

This section delineates the reactivity hazards and stability information related to the chemical. It's divided into reactivity, chemical stability, and other categories, encompassing various specifics. Reactivity includes specific test data or representative information regarding potential hazards. Chemical stability indicates the chemical's stability under standard conditions, storage requirements, and any necessary stabilizers. The "Other" section highlights possible hazardous reactions, needs to avoid triggering such reactions, incompatible materials that may induce hazardous situations, and any anticipated hazardous decomposition products due to use, storage, or heat exposure. Additionally, it covers hazardous combustion products in the Fire-Fighting Measures section.

Section 11: Toxicological Information

This section outlines the toxicological and health effects of the chemical or notes the unavailability of such data. It includes information on likely exposure routes (inhalation, ingestion, skin, and eye contact) and indicates unknown data. Details on delayed, immediate, or chronic effects from short- and long-term exposure are provided. Numerical toxicity measures like LD50 (median lethal dose), indicating the estimated amount expected to cause fatality in 50% of test animals in a single dose, are specified. Symptoms associated with exposure, ranging from mild to severe, are described comprehensively. Additionally, it indicates if the chemical is listed as a potential carcinogen in the National Toxicology Program or International Agency for Research on Cancer reports or designated as such by OSHA.

Section 12: Ecological Information (non-mandatory)

This section evaluates the potential environmental impact if the chemical were released. It includes data from toxicity tests on aquatic and terrestrial organisms, providing details on acute or chronic toxicity for various microorganisms. Information on the chemical's persistence and environmental degradation, whether through biodegradation or other processes like oxidation or hydrolysis, is also detailed. Tests on bioaccumulation potential, referencing partition coefficients and bioconcentration factors, are included if available. The section discusses the substance's potential migration from soil to groundwater, referencing adsorption or leaching studies. Additionally, it outlines any other adverse effects, such as environmental fate, ozone layer depletion, photochemical ozone creation potential, endocrine disruption, or global warming potential.

Section 13: Disposal Considerations (non-mandatory)

This section offers guidelines on proper disposal, recycling, or reclamation of the chemical or its container while emphasizing safe handling practices. To minimize exposure, it directs readers to Section 8 (Exposure Controls/Personal Protection) of the SDS. Information includes details on recommended disposal containers and methods, considering the chemical's physical and chemical properties that could impact disposal. It discourages sewage disposal and may provide specific precautions for landfills or incineration activities.

Section 14: Transport Information (non-mandatory)

This section offers guidance on classifying and transporting hazardous chemicals through various modes like road, air, rail, or sea. Information typically includes the UN number, proper shipping name, transport hazard class(es), and packing group number (if applicable) to indicate the hazard level. It might highlight environmental hazards and guide bulk transport according to relevant codes. Additionally, it may outline any specific precautions employees should follow during transport, both within and outside their premises, emphasizing when information is unavailable.

Section 15: Regulatory Information (non-mandatory)

This section focuses on specific safety, health, and environmental regulations pertinent to the product, not covered elsewhere in the SDS. It may encompass national or regional regulatory details related to the chemical or mixtures surrounding various agencies such as OSHA, Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, or Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations.

Section 16: Other Information

This section of the SDS provides the preparation date or the date of the last revision, offering insight into when the document was last updated. Additionally, it may highlight the specific alterations made compared to the previous version. Should there be any questions or need for clarification regarding the modifications, contacting the supplier for further details is recommended. This section may also include other relevant supplementary information.

Validation of Safety Data Sheets

When using a safety data sheet, conducting a thorough plausibility check beforehand is crucial. One of the initial steps involves verifying the CAS number (Chemical Abstracts Service) in a substance database. Inputting the CAS number confirms whether the stated substance aligns accurately with the available information.

Another pivotal aspect is Section 9 of the safety data sheet, which outlines the relevant chemical properties of the substance. Ensuring that the provided properties correspond to the GHS symbols (Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals) listed in the safety data sheet is imperative.

Furthermore, while reviewing the safety data sheet, attention should be paid to other pertinent information, such as the accurate substance classification according to the applicable regulations and the specified safety measures for handling, storage, and disposal.

Understanding Safety Data Sheets and Identifying Appropriate Safety Measures

Interpreting safety data sheets requires careful reading, understanding labels, assessing hazards and risks, and deriving appropriate safety measures. Individuals handling hazardous substances must be trained to correctly interpret safety data sheets and take suitable actions to protect their health and safety. Comprehensive knowledge of correctly interpreting safety data sheets is vital for creating legally required risk assessments.

Assessing hazards and risks involves analyzing hazard statements and descriptions, which contain information about the nature and severity of the dangers. Only by understanding these hazards can a thorough assessment of the potential risks associated with handling or exposure to the hazardous substance be made.

A key aspect of interpreting safety data sheets involves deriving suitable safety measures. This requires careful reading of recommendations and instructions in the safety data sheet. Information about exposure limitations, such as permissible workplace or biological exposure limits, technical controls like ventilation systems, extraction devices, or enclosed systems, and personal protective equipment (PPE) such as protective clothing, gloves, eye protection, and respirators, might be included. All these indications must be considered in the risk assessment and translated into a defensive plan.

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The specialist information on this page has been compiled carefully and to the best of our knowledge and belief. Nevertheless, DENIOS Ltd cannot assume any warranty or liability of any kind, whether in contract, tort or otherwise, for the topicality, completeness and correctness either towards the reader or towards third parties. The use of the information and content for your own or third party purposes is therefore at your own risk. In any case, please observe the locally and currently applicable legislation.

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