Managing Chemical Inventory: Understanding an SDS (Safety Data Sheet)

19th February 2013 | chemical safety, MSDS, workplace safety

Material Safety Data Sheet

By law businesses must obtain a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for every chemical product in the workplace and make it available to anyone who may use or come into contact with that chemical. The SDS provides detailed information about the chemical product including its ingredients, health risks, safe handling and storage instructions and other regulatory information.

Reading the product label isn’t enough

Due to the limitations of product labeling laws many serious health and safety risks are only detailed in the SDS, so it is vital that everyone involved in the purchasing, use and handling of chemicals reads it.

For example many products containing suspected or known carcinogens do not carry any type of warning on the label. It is only the SDS that reveals the true extent of risks associated with any particular product.


What’s in an SDS?

A legally compliant SDS must contain 16 separate headings, be written in English and less than 5 years old. You should also check that it is the most current version for the product you are using.

  • Section 1 – Identification:
    Contains the product identifier or tradename, contact details of the manufacturer or importer and the emergency telephone number.
  • Section 2 – Hazard(s) identification
    Details potential health and physical hazards of the chemical. This information can be used to help assess the risks to the health and safety of workers, other people, and the environment.
  • Section 3 – Composition and information on ingredients
    If the chemical is a mixture, this section should provide the information on the identity and proportions of hazardous ingredients in the mixture.
  • Section 4 – First-aid measures
    Describes the necessary first aid measures to be taken in case of an accident.
  • Section 5 – Fire-fighting measures
    Information on fighting a fire involving the chemical, including the most suitable fire extinguisher.
  • Section 6 – Accidental release measures
    Describes what actions need to be taken if there is an accidental release or spill of the chemical.
  • Section 7 – Handling and storage
    Contains details on how to handle and store the chemical.
  • Section 8 – Exposure controls and personal protection
    Provides information on control measures that can be used to reduce exposure.
  • Section 9 – Physical and chemical properties
    Provides detailed information on the physical and chemical properties of the chemical.
  • Section 10 – Stability and reactivity
    Contains details of any hazardous reactions that may occur if the chemical is used under certain conditions and details of any incompatible material.
  • Section 11 – Toxicological information
    Provides detailed information on the toxicological properties of the chemical.
  • Section 12 – Ecological information
    Provides detailed information on the ecological hazard properties of the chemical.
  • Section 13 – Disposal considerations
    Explains how the chemical should be disposed of correctly, recycled or reclaimed.
  • Section 14 – Transport information
    Contains classification information like UN number, transport hazard classes and packing groups that relate to the transport of the chemical by road, rail, sea or air.
  • Section 15 – Regulatory information
    Provides advice on other international or national regulatory information specific to the chemical.
  • Section 16 – Any other relevant information
    Provides any other information relevant to the preparation of the SDS, including the date of its preparation, a key or legend to abbreviations, acronyms and references used.

Minimising the risks

Following the storage, handling and usage instructions in the SDS is a good way to manage risks. The best and most reliable way to reduce chemical risks is to eliminate the product all together, or substitute it with a safer alternative.

In many cases these safer alternatives actually perform better than the hazardous products they replace, so if you don’t like what you are reading in the SDS it’s definitely worth considering other options.

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