Understanding Safety Data Sheets

In the last couple of decades, regulations concerning chemicals or other dangerous substances have been rapidly developing around the globe. Regulations prescribe several different obligations and requirements for the safe handling of chemicals. One of such obligations is a requirement for safety data sheets. While there are some differences between different regions and markets, it is an almost universal requirement today that businesses that handle hazardous chemicals should provide their employees and customers with safety data sheets.

This article will explore everything you need to know about the safety data sheets and their contents.

So, what exactly are Safety Data Sheets?

As the name suggests, Safety Data Sheet (SDS) is a document designed to provide persons who handle chemicals with relevant safety information. Whether you use, store, sell or handle hazardous chemicals in any other way, you should have an SDS at hand. Additionally, SDS should be presented to emergency personnel to help them perform better and improve their efficiency.

One of the main goals of the SDS is the reduction of risks associated with the handling of chemical products. It should help personnel protect themselves from exposure, hazards, or accidents while handling the chemical product. SDS should contain information about the preventive measures which need to be followed while working with the chemical product.

The SDS is not primarily intended for use by the general consumer. But if the product is sold directly to the consumer, a seller might have the obligation of providing the consumer with the SDS in some countries.

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.

Besides information concerning the identification of the chemical product and its supplier and label information, SDS should include information on:

- the instructions for the safe use and handling of chemical product 

- potential hazards associated with the product and its components

- first aid measures

- measures in case of fire or accidents 

- personal protective equipment and exposure control 

- physical and chemical properties of the product, including chemical stability and reactivity

- toxicological and ecotoxicological effects

- disposal of waste

- requirements concerning the transportation of hazardous chemicals and regulations associated with the chemical product

The information mentioned above should be arranged in the 16 sections prescribed by the GHS.

Standard SDS made according to GHS rules should consist of the following 16 sections:

SECTION 1: Identification of the substance/mixture and the company/undertaking

SECTION 2: Hazards identification

SECTION 3: Composition/information on ingredients

SECTION 4: First aid measures

SECTION 5: Firefighting measures

SECTION 6: Accidental release measure

SECTION 7: Handling and storage

SECTION 8: Exposure controls/personal protection

SECTION 9: Physical and chemical properties

SECTION 10: Stability and reactivity

SECTION 11: Toxicological information

SECTION 12: Ecological information

SECTION 13: Disposal considerations

SECTION 14: Transport information

SECTION 15: Regulatory information

SECTION 16: Other information

It is important to note that the GHS presents a basis for the harmonisation of rules and regulations on chemicals at the international level. Still, countries may also choose to adopt only parts of the GHS. GHS has been introduced to many countries/regions such as Europe, the US, Canada, Russia, China, Japan, Korea, etc., via their own legislation or standards. It divides chemical hazards into three main groups:

Physical hazards

Health hazards

Environmental hazards.

Some countries haven't adopted chapters for environmental hazards classification and labelling like the US. This is why only following GHS is not enough. Local legislation also needs to be checked.

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