What are Safety Data Sheets (SDSs)?

By Brian Sugarman on March 14, 2021
Tags: Construction, Safety

Two construction workers viewing mobile tablet

What is a SDS and what is its purpose?

The term SDS refers to a Safety Data Sheet that is used by chemical companies to stay in compliance with the regulations set by OSHA in the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). Companies that manufacture, distribute, or import chemicals are required to provide Safety Data Sheets to inform workers of the hazardous materials they are handling.

The main purpose of a SDS is to provide companies with a standard template they can use for communicating critical information about their hazardous materials for the safety interests of their workers. 

 

SDS Information You Should Know

In 2012, OSHA updated the HCS to be aligned with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). It’s important to point out that Safety Data Sheets are part of the legislative process at OSHA, meaning that they can change over time and new amendments can be enacted by the administration. 

The changes that occurred in 2012 were enacted in part to reduce trade barriers globally for American companies and to provide consistent standards for communicating and classifying hazardous chemicals. As part of these changes, the long-used material data sheets (MSDS) also became obsolete, and companies were forced to move to the new 16-section SDS format to stay in compliance and avoid any applicable fines. 

 

What’s included in the current 16 section SDS format?

OSHA structures the Safety Data Sheets into 16 sections so that all companies have a standard template to keep things consistent. Each of the sections has a distinct purpose for classifying hazards and below we have included a high-level summary provided by OSHA’s website of what’s included in each section of the Safety Data Sheets.

Sections 1 through 8 

OSHA states that “Sections 1 through 8 contain general information about the chemical, identification, hazards, composition, safe handling practices, and emergency control measures (e.g., fire fighting). This information should be helpful to those that need to get the information quickly.” 

  • Section 1: Identification
  • Section 2: Hazard(s) Identification
  • Section 3: Composition/Information on Ingredients
  • Section 4: First-Aid Measures
  • Section 5: Fire-Fighting Measures
  • Section 6: Accidental Release Measures
  • Section 7: Handling and Storage
  • Section 8: Exposure Controls/Personal Protection

 

Sections 9 through 11 and 16

OSHA states that “Sections 9 through 11 and 16 contain other technical and scientific information, such as physical and chemical properties, stability and reactivity information, toxicological information, exposure control information, and other information including the date of preparation or last revision. The SDS must also state that no applicable information was found when the preparer does not find relevant information for any required element.”

  • Section 9: Physical and Chemical Properties
  • Section 10: Stability and Reactivity
  • Section 11: Toxicological Information
  • Section 12: Ecological Information (non-mandatory)
  • Section 13: Disposal Considerations (non-mandatory)
  • Section 14: Transport Information (non-mandatory)
  • Section 15: Regulatory Information (non-mandatory)
  • Section 16: Other Information

 

Why are sections 12 through 15 labeled as non-mandatory?

As we mentioned earlier in this article, the 2012 changes to the SDS format were designed to bring more consistency between the SDS format and the globally recognized GHS standards. That’s why sections 12 through 15 are now included in the template and marked as non-mandatory.

It’s important to note that OSHA “will not enforce the content of these sections because they concern matters handled by other agencies.” While these sections are not mandatory to be in compliance with OSHA standards, it makes sense to use these sections if your company works internationally and also needs to comply with the GHS.

 

Can a SDS be stored digitally?

As more companies invest in digital transformation initiatives, it means that companies are moving towards housing much of their critical information in secure, cloud-based platforms. When it comes to SDSs, OSHA indicates that safety data sheets can absolutely be stored as digital documents. OSHA just requires that these SDSs are easily accessible for all employees who need to understand the hazardous chemicals that are being used for their job site. 

Another best practice can be to assign a person or team to manage the SDSs and make sure that they are always accessible and up to date. Having these documents stored digitally and made available through a mobile application will help your team manage the documents and ensure that your workers know where to find the latest version of the SDS. 

In the rare case of a power outage or emergency situation, it makes sense to have a hard copy of your SDS available for workers. But otherwise in today’s digitally connected world, it’s going to make sense to have digital copies available for your SDSs that can be readily accessible in a secure mobile device on-site.

 

Covering SDSs in Safety Toolbox Talks

Toolbox talks are a great way to educate your workers on best practices in the workplace by sharing everything they need to know on staying compliant with regulations for jobs and projects. You can use these daily safety meetings as an opportunity to review the SDSs, covering how to find them and how to interpret the information that is provided, making sure to highlight the potential risks involved with chemicals on site. 

Your leadership team may also want to consider implementing a safety management solution to help manage compliance with OSHA and to ensure your employees have access to the latest data sheets.

By moving these processes online, it will also allow you to analyze which employees and job sites have actually completed the training programs, so you can identify and address any potential issues before they result in an accident or fines.  

 

Safety Data Sheet examples and templates

If you are looking for free SDSs sheets, you may be interested in the GoCanvas app store where we have built out safety data sheet examples and templates that you can use as a starting point.

Companies that deal with potentially hazardous materials are starting to implement chemical management programs and mobile applications have proven to be effective for tracking and managing these programs. 

Our safety data sheet templates can be used to contain a range of information about chemicals and materials being handled. They are meant to communicate to the reader any protective equipment needed when handling the chemicals or materials, hazard communications such as signage or pictograms, information about hazardous substances that may make up component materials or ingredients of the subject of the SDS, and how to handle spills or exposure to hazardous material.

Construction companies that move to GoCanvas have found that it helps them track and report on their safety programs in real-time, giving them a better place to manage their SDSs and helping to improve the health and safety initiatives at their workplaces.