All you need to know about international Safety Data Sheet Considerations

When businesses that work with chemicals expand onto the new markets, one of the fairly common problems for many of them is the need for a compliant Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for said markets. SDS is a document designed to provide persons who handle chemicals with relevant safety information. One of the main goals of the SDS is the reduction of risks associated with the handling of chemical products. It should help workers protect themselves from the exposure, hazards, or accidents that may arise while handling the chemical product. SDS should contain information about the preventive measures which needs to be followed while working with the chemical product.  

Today, most countries worldwide follow the Globally Harmonized System for the classification and labelling of chemicals (GHS), which is implemented in some way in their local chemical management frameworks. Among other things, GHS prescribes SDS requirements, including its content and format. According to the GHS rules, safety data sheets should consist of 16 prescribed sections. It includes information about identifying the chemical product and its supplier, hazards and precautionary measures, instructions for safe use and handling, first aid measures and measures in case of fire or accidents. It also contains information about personal protective equipment (PPE), occupational exposure limits and exposure controls. Other sections on the SDS list the physical and chemical properties of the product, including chemical stability and reactivity. It also details toxicology, ecotoxicity, disposal information, and requirements concerning the transportation of hazardous chemicals and regulations associated with the chemical product. The transportation section includes information about road, rail, marine and air transport while stating the assigned UN number, packing group, and hazard class of the chemical product. This is critical information for the customer and shipping company as it informs them how to handle and ship the product safely.

Because it contains so much useful information, SDS is commonly used as a part of mandatory documentation for customs clearance for chemical products. Many jurisdictions around the globe prescribe harsh fines and penalties for SDS non-compliance, which is why having a compliant SDS is crucial for any international business.

We have mentioned earlier that GHS has been implemented in many countries and regions worldwide. The UN developed it to harmonise and bring chemical regulations and standards of different countries into agreement.  However, it is important to note that, even if two countries may have adopted the GHS, that doesn’t mean that all of the rules and requirements are the same. GHS presents a basis for harmonising rules and regulations on chemicals at the international level, but countries may also choose to adopt only parts of the GHS; for example, the US hasn’t adopted chapters for the environmental hazards’ classification and labelling while the EU has. Not only that, there are currently nine different GHS revisions. GHS has been introduced to many countries/regions such as Europe, the United States, Canada, Russia, China, Japan, Korea, etc., via their legislation or standards. At the same time, they chose to adopt one of these nine different GHS revisions. This created differing hazard classifications and labelling requirements between jurisdictions. A chemical classified as hazardous in one region might not be classified in another with the same hazard class or category due to the differences in classification criteria. For example, a chemical classified as reproductive toxicant category 1 in one country may only be considered as category 2 in another country or even not classified with that hazard. This is why when creating SDS, only following GHS is not enough; local legislation also needs to be checked. 

Besides these differences, which can occur in the content of the SDS for different markets, things become even more complex since SDS’ also need to be prepared in native/local language for the designated market. Due to its complexity and scientific and regulatory language, SDS’ usually require experienced translators for accurate translations. Also, as mentioned, in most cases, SDS is an important document for the customs clearance process, and any irregularities could cause a delay for the shipments. 

Regulations change over time, so having a compliant SDS at all times can be quite a hustle, especially if you produce or sell many different chemicals to many markets around the globe. You should train or hire regulatory staff with the right skills and knowledge or purchase a quality SDS compilation software or service to make sure that you have a compliant SDS at all times.

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