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The Importance of Safety Data Sheets: Key Information for Health and Safety

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Author: ACTenviro
Date: May 30, 2024

Does your business revolve around manufacturing, processing, or handling hazardous chemicals? Does your job involve handling such dangerous substances? If so, you should be familiar with those chemicals' safety data sheets (SDS). 

A chemical safety data sheet, or SDS, is not just a legal document. They are vital guides and instructions for maintaining a safe and secure working environment. It contains important knowledge about hazardous substances that you are handling.

Keep reading as we discuss the details of SDSs and how they promote health and safety at work.

What is a Safety Data Sheet (SDS)?

What does SDS stand for? A Safety Data Sheet (SDS) is a document that provides information regarding occupational safety and health for using various chemicals. The SDS includes information on the nature of the chemical, its hazards, handling, storage, disposal practices, and emergency procedures.

Workers and emergency personnel need to understand the risks associated with the chemicals they are using. This is where the SDS comes in. It also provides the proper procedures on how to handle these substances safely.

Access to SDSs isn't just a best practice. In most countries, it's a legal obligation for workplaces dealing with hazardous chemicals. 

Your understanding of an SDS, whether you are an employer or employee, plays a significant role in maintaining a safe workplace.

What Is the Purpose of a Safety Data Sheet?

The primary objective of a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) is to ensure that everyone who handles, uses, or is exposed to hazardous chemicals has access to important health and safety information. This helps make the workplace a healthier, safer place to work in. The approach to do so, however, is multifaceted.

  1. To provide information on chemicals: An SDS contains detailed information about the hazards of chemicals including their physical, chemical, and toxicological properties. It also describes how these chemicals can affect health and safety.
  2. To guide safe handling practices: An SDS provides the necessary instructions on how chemicals should be safely handled, stored, and transported. Knowing these guidelines significantly reduces the risk of accidents and exposures.
  3. To facilitate emergency response: SDSs contain vital information for emergency responders. These may include first-aid measures, fire-fighting techniques, and procedures for containing and cleaning up spills, containing fires, treating injuries, and other chemical-related accidents.  
  4. To ensure regulatory compliance: An SDS helps organizations comply with regulatory requirements related to hazardous chemicals. Regulations may vary by country but generally require that an SDS be available for employees and emergency personnel to reference. 
  5. To promote workplace safety and health: An SDS plays an important role in promoting a safe working environment by informing personnel about the hazards of the chemicals they are using. 
  6. To protect the environment: An SDS provides information on the environmental impact of chemicals. This helps the business implement measures to prevent environmental contamination.

What Key Information Is Found in the Safety Data Sheet?

a woman on a laboratory holding a tab

The standard safety data sheet contains 16 sections that provide crucial insights into the chemical. These sections are not mutable, and the format does not vary. In other words, all SDSs follow a global standard.

Section 1: Identification

  • Name of the chemical
  • Synonyms or trade names
  • Intended use and any restrictions on use
  • Manufacturer or distributor’s name, address, and contact information
  • Contact for emergencies

Section 2: Hazard Identification

  • Hazard classification
  • Hazard symbols, signal words, hazard statements, precautionary statements
  • Hazards not otherwise classified or specific to certain scenarios

Section 3: Composition/Information on Ingredients

  • Ingredients and impurities that make the chemical hazardous
  • Chemical Abstracts Service number and other identifiers

Section 4: First-Aid Measures

  • Specific actions to take if exposed by route of exposure (inhalation, ingestion, skin, and eye contact)
  • Potential health effects and symptoms
  • Any special treatment required immediately or later

Section 5: Fire-Fighting Measures

  • Suitable and unsuitable extinguishing equipment
  • Hazardous combustion products
  • Protective equipment and precautions for firefighters

Section 6: Accidental Release Measures

  • Personal precautions, protective equipment, and emergency procedures for spills and leaks
  • Precautions for preventing environmental contamination
  • Methods and materials for containment and cleaning up spills and leaks

Section 7: Handling and Storage

  • How to handle safely to prevent exposure and accidents
  • Conditions for safe storage and incompatible materials

Section 8: Exposure Controls/Personal Protection

  • Occupational exposure limits
  • Ventilation requirements and other engineering controls
  • Specific types of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, eye protection, and respiratory protection when handling the chemical

Section 9: Physical and Chemical Properties

  •  Fundamental properties that help identify the chemical and predict its behavior. These include general information such as appearance, odor, pH, boiling point, melting point, and flash point.

Section 10: Stability and Reactivity

  • Potential for hazardous reactions
  • Chemical stability under normal conditions
  • Possibility of hazardous reactions and conditions to avoid
  • Incompatible materials that should not come into contact with the substance
  • Possible dangerous products formed when the chemical breaks down

Section 11: Toxicological Information

  • Health effects information and details about symptoms, including delayed and immediate effects and also the route of exposure

Section 12: Ecological Information

  • Effects on organisms in the environment
  • Information on how long the chemical lasts in the environment
  • Bioaccumulative potential to accumulate in living organisms
  • How the chemical moves through the environment

Section 13: Disposal Considerations

  • Information on safe disposal practices for the chemical and its contaminated packaging

Section 14: Transport Information

  • UN number, UN proper shipping name, and other relevant transport information for the safe transport of hazardous goods

Section 15: Regulatory Information

  • Safety, health, and environmental regulations specific to the product. This might include any local, national, or international regulatory information pertinent to the chemical

Section 16: Other Information

  • Date of preparation or last revision of the SDS
  • Any other information not captured elsewhere in the SDS

Who Needs to Have a Safety Data Sheet?

The mandate for having a safety data sheet extends to the following key groups:  

  1. Employers: Any business that uses hazardous chemicals in the workplace must keep an SDS for each chemical they are using or handling. Employers should make sure that these sheets are accessible to all employees at all times during their work shifts. 
  2. Employees: Workers who handle, use, or are potentially exposed to hazardous chemicals should have access to SDSs to understand the risks and the necessary precautions for safe handling and use. 
  3. Chemical Handlers and Distributors: Companies involved in the distribution, shipping, and handling of chemicals must provide an SDS to accompany the chemicals throughout the supply chain. 
  4. Emergency Responders: First responders, such as firefighters, paramedics, and hazardous material (HAZMAT) crews need SDSs to understand the properties of chemicals they might encounter during emergencies. 
  5. Health Professionals: Medical personnel may require SDSs to treat patients exposed to hazardous chemicals. SDSs provide critical information on potential health effects and recommended treatments for exposures.
  6. Regulatory Agencies: Government bodies that regulate workplace safety, public health, and environmental protection might request SDSs to ensure that other parties comply with safety standards and regulations. 
  7. Waste Management Professionals: Those involved in the disposal and treatment of hazardous waste need SDSs to understand the nature of the chemicals they are managing.  

Who is Responsible for Providing a Safety Data Sheet?

The responsibility for providing a safety data sheet mainly falls on the manufacturers, importers, and distributors of hazardous chemicals. 

  1. Manufacturers: Manufacturers of hazardous chemicals are responsible for developing SDSs based on a thorough evaluation of their products. 
  2. Importers: Importers must ensure that the chemicals they bring into a country are accompanied by an accurate and compliant SDS that meets the regulatory requirements of that country. If the original SDS provided by the foreign manufacturer fails to meet local regulations, the importer is responsible for creating a compliant SDS.
  3. Distributors: Distributors are required to pass along the SDS they receive from manufacturers or importers to the next buyer down the supply chain. 

In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) legally enforces the requirements for SDSs under the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). OSHA requires that SDSs be made available to downstream users of chemicals including employers and employees.

These regulations are put in place so that everyone in the supply chain has the information to handle chemicals safely and respond appropriately to emergencies. 

How Do I Obtain a Safety Data Sheet?

Obtaining a safety data sheet is a simple but important task for maintaining a secure and regulation-compliant work environment. There are several ways in which you can access SDSs:

  1. From the manufacturer or supplier: When purchasing chemicals, you can ask the manufacturer or supplier to provide the SDS. Many manufacturers and distributors also make SDSs available on their websites. 
  2. Through your employer: If you're required to handle hazardous chemicals, ask your employer or your workplace's safety officer for an SDS of each chemical you're handling; they are lawfully required to do so. 
  3. Online Databases: You can search and download SDSs from several online databases. Examples of such sources include MSDSonline, Chemical Safety's SDS Search, or Verisk 3E.
  4. Email or Phone Inquiries: If you cannot find an SDS through direct search or online resources, contact the manufacturer’s customer service via email or phone. 
  5. Third-Party Safety Consultants: If you’re setting up new operations or handling many different chemicals, you might consider working with third parties such as ACTenviro who can help acquire and manage your SDSs.

What are the Requirements of a Safety Data Sheet?

All safety data sheets must follow these requirements:

  1. Each hazardous chemical at a workplace should have a current SDS with safety information on physical and health hazards. It should also have information on how to store, handle, and transport the chemicals safely.
  2. All SDSs are available, up-to-date, and accessible to all employees.
  3. SDS documents must be stored for 30 years. Storage could be hard copies or files in a digital database.
  4. Employees must be briefed and trained on new hazardous chemicals before they are introduced and used in the workplace.

How Should Safety Data Sheets Be Stored and Maintained?

Safety data sheets should be stored in such a way that they are always readily available and updated. Here are some simple and practical tips for organizing and updating SDSs.

  • SDSs must be placed in workplace locations that are known and easy to reach to all workers.
  • Use electronic formats such as on a company intranet, through a digital management system, the company website, or an app to publish SDSs.
  • If you're using physical binders, these should be kept in multiple, clearly marked, and consistent locations throughout the workplace.
  • Maintain an index listing all the chemicals you have SDSs for. This makes it easier to find the specific SDS.
  • Chemical manufacturers periodically update SDSs to reflect new health and safety information or regulatory requirements. Replace old SDSs with new versions as soon as they are available.
  • Establish a regular review schedule to ensure all SDSs are up to date and none are missing. 
  • Conduct regular training sessions for all employees on how to read and understand SDSs. Include SDS training as part of the orientation process for new employees.

What Should I Do If I Find an Error in a Safety Data Sheet?

In most cases, a safety data sheet contains accurate and updated information about the chemical. However, should you discover an error in a safety data sheet, it should be addressed promptly. Incorrect information can result in improper handling of hazardous substances, which poses severe health and safety risks. 

1. Double-check the information: Confirm that the information in the SDS is indeed incorrect. Cross-reference the SDS with reliable sources or consult with experts on the matter.

2. Document the error: Write down the specific error, where it was found, and the potential implications it might have on safety and compliance.

3. Contact the manufacturer or supplier: Get in touch with the chemical manufacturer or supplier directly to report the error. Provide them with detailed information about the discrepancy and where it is located in the SDS. Ask for a corrected version of the SDS. 

4. Inform your internal stakeholders: Inform your safety officer, management, and any employees who handle the chemical about the error. If necessary, take temporary measures for safety until you receive a corrected SDS.

5. Follow up: Follow up with the manufacturer or supplier regarding the corrected SDS. Once the corrected SDS is received, check if the error has been corrected and that the new document is accurate.

6. Update your records: Replace your SDS records, physical and electronic copies, with the corrected version; but archive the old one. If the correction involves significant changes to safety information, consider re-training employees who handle the chemical.

What Is the Global Harmonized System (GHS)?

image of various hazard symbols

The Global Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals is an international standard developed by the United Nations to ensure that the hazards of chemicals are consistently classified and communicated globally. It helps protect human health and the environment by providing an internationally comprehensible system for hazard communication.

The GHS specifies a standard, consistent format for safety data sheets, which includes 16 sections mentioned above. This is to ensure that all pertinent safety information is provided and easily accessible.

Conclusion

Being well-versed with Safety Data Sheets is a vital aspect of creating and maintaining a safe, secure, and healthy work environment. These documents are important in averting mishaps, offering protective measures against hazards, and setting the course for emergency procedures.

ACTenviro can assist you in all aspects of obtaining, updating, arranging, and training employees regarding SDSs. They can help you establish a work setting that is safe and secure, and promotes the well-being of everyone involved.

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