SDS Fundamentals


For over fifteen years, Chemscape has been a leader in SDS management solutions, providing Canadian businesses with essential SDS information, insight, resources and services. This informative SDS fundamentals resource centre provides an in-depth look at commonly asked questions surrounding Safety Data Sheets (SDS).

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A Safety Data Sheet, also known as an SDS is where you go if you need more information on a hazardous product. It gives you the facts on the product you are working with. The SDS helps you identify the hazardous materials of the product you are working with and gives you full details on the hazardous ingredients. The SDS provides instructions on how to work safely with a product. It describes the full steps you need to take if there is an emergency with the product.

SDS stands for safety data sheets and have 16-sections that are required as per the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of classification and labelling of chemicals.  MSDS stands for Material Safety Data Sheet and was the previous generation before the United Nations GHS SDS standard was adopted around the world. In North America only SDSs are compliant; as the USA, Canada and Mexico have transition to GHS SDS compliance.  There still may be subtle differences between countries on the information in each section but the sections have been standardized to provide consistency in information on the hazards of chemicals around the world.  

The requirements for SDS updates are dependent upon the jurisdiction you are working in. For Canada, you would want to look at the provincial/territory workplace WHMIS laws for any variation. For the USA you would refer to the OSHA Haz Com laws for your state as some states may have requirements that exceed federal standards. In general, it is the chemical manufacturers / suppliers’ responsibility to update the SDS when significant new information on the hazardous product occurs. Best practise is for worksites to do an annual chemical inventory check to ensure their SDS library is up to date and current. See the guidelines for updating SDSs in Canada for provincial and federal workplaces.  

There are 16 sections in a safety data sheet:  

Section 1: Product Identification

The product name on this section is always an exact match to the supplier label. Information in section 1 includes – the name of the product, the name and contact of the manufacturer/ supplier; recommended product use and restrictions are also listed in this section.

Section 2: Hazard Identification

The information on this section is very similar to what is on supplier labels. Information in section 2 includes – Hazard Signals, Signal Word, Hazard statements and Precautionary statements.

Section 3: Composition/Ingredients  

The information on this section includes the Composition / Ingredients of the product. Information on section 3 – includes – list of ingredients, concentrations of each ingredient, CAS numbers, and trade secrets are also listed here.

Section 4: First Aid Measures 

Steps you need take to treat a person who comes into contact with, ingests or inhales the product.  

Section 5: Fire Fighting Measures  

Details the appropriate firefighting measures to take as well as the type of fire extinguisher needed. Also included are the chemical hazards of a fire and what precautions and PPE fire fighters should wear.

Section 6: Accidental Release Measures  

Discusses what the proper methods of containment and cleanup of a spill. If you need special emergency procedures to protect others including the environment, special equipment or PPE.

Section 7: Handling and Storage

Is about handling and storage. It gives you precautions for safe handling and safe storage requirements and identifies any incompatible materials.

Section 8: Exposure Controls/Personal Protection

Deals with exposure controls and personal protection. It gives you details on the personal protective equipment you need to wear. And describe the engineering controls that are needed to keep you working safely with the product. Exposure limits are also listed that are calculated by international organizations.

Section 9: Physical / Chemical Properties

Provides a complete technical description of the product. For example: state, colour, odour, flash point, boiling point, and freezing point.

Section 10: Stability and Reactivity

Is the product chemically stable? What materials will it react with? Does the product decompose into other hazardous substances? What conditions must be avoided?

Section 11: Toxicological Information

Focuses on health. It discusses long and short-term health effects. It explains which of your internal organs can become affected by exposure. If the product causes cancer, reproductive problems, or lead to chronic skin or lungs diseases.

Section 12: Ecological Information

Details if the product is toxic to the air, water or soil? If this has a short-term or long-term effect?

Section 13: Disposal Considerations

Tells you how to dispose of the product and its container. It describes any product residues and outlines any safe handling procedures.  

Section 14: Transport Information

Tells you how to get the product to its destination safely. Regulatory information is listed like UN Number and shipping classes. Special transport considerations are listed here as well.  

Section 15: Regulatory Information  

If there are federal, provincial/state regulatory information for the health, safety or the environment. Content can apply to transporters, workers, suppliers and employers.

Section 16: Other Information 

Preparation date of the SDS will be listed here.

Safety Data Sheets are mandatory for hazardous products. If a product arrives at the worksite without an SDS it needs to be quarantined until an SDS is obtained for the product.

Consumer products like WD-40 frequently purchase at a local hardware store may not be legislated to have an SDS but that does not mean the product is not hazardous and one may actually be available through the supplier. You may work with a product differently in the workplace then you do at home and this can affect the risk of the hazardous product and justify the availability of having an SDS on hand.

Manufacturers and suppliers of a hazardous chemical need to author a Safety Data Sheet for their product and make them available to customers and end users in their distribution chain. If a product has been imported from another country the distributor may be required to author a safety data sheet. Check with the local federal regulatory body in your country.  

Anyone who is handling or storing the hazardous product should have access to the SDS. This may include employees who are transporting the hazardous product. Your SDSs also need to be made available to first responders in the event of an emergency. You can keep SDSs in an electronic version, on a mobile app or saved locally and printed.

Of course, Chemscape recommends outsourcing to sdsBinders for your Safety Data Sheet Management as it provides many advantages for you including:

  • Access to your SDSs 24/7 either online or through our mobile app
  • Access to sdsBinders massive library of current SDSs
  • Always be compliant with your SDS Inventory
  • Leave the work to sdsBinders to find your SDS documents
  • Organize your SDS Binders how you want
  • No limits to the number of users or binders
  • Have a back-up file or printed copy of your SDSs
  • Enjoy unlimited training and support on the sdsBinders
  • Spend time managing other Health and Safety responsibilities and leave the SDS Management to Chemscape’ sdsBinders

The Safety Data Sheet or SDS is a document written by a manufacturer or supplier of a hazardous material that gives workers full details on what the hazards are and what to do if there is ever an emergency.

The purpose of an SDS is to help workers answer basic questions on the hazardous product. To know what the product is (section 1: Product Identification). To understand what the hazards are (section 2: Hazard Identification). To know how to work safely with the product (section 7: Handling and Storage). To reference what to do in an emergency (section 4, 5, and 6: First Aid, Fire Fighting Measures, and Accidental Release Measures). 

Section 7 of an SDS, handling & storage tells you how to work safely with a hazardous product and the steps you need to take in order to protect yourself.

The change from MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) to the current SDS (Safety Data Sheet) was guided by the internationally agreed upon principles of The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) to harmonize standards across the world in respect to chemical classification and hazard communication. The goal of moving to one standard was to simplify regulations and improve safety for workers who interact with hazardous products. MSDSs varied greatly in structure and information between countries and suppliers. SDSs now have a standard 16-section format with signal words (Warning or Danger), universally standardized hazard and precautionary statements, and hazard pictograms.

In Canada, a supplier needs to provide the SDS, in English and French to the purchaser of the hazardous product in hard copy (paper copy or mail) or by electronic means (email with PDF attachment or on a USB stick). It is not sufficient to simply provide a website address or hyperlink the download the SDS for the product they purchased.

The SDS posts a date of last revision in section 16 – other information. You will know if an SDS was updated by checking this date and comparing it to the previous you have on file. Suppliers do not need to contact customers with an updated SDS for past purchases of a hazardous product.

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