The Difference Between MSDS & SDS

To understand the difference between SDS and MSDS, it’s important to know what the Globally Harmonized System is and how it has impacted the move from MSDS to SDS. 

Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals also known as GHS is an internationally agreed-upon standard managed by the United Nations that was set up to replace the assortment of hazardous material classification and labelling schemes previously used around the world. It is the culmination of many years of discussion between governments and industries.

What is the Globally Harmonized System (GHS)?

The GHS is a system for harmonizing hazard classification criteria and chemical hazard communication elements worldwide. The GHS is not a regulation; rather it is a framework or guidance for classifying and labeling hazardous chemicals. The purpose of classification under the GHS is to provide harmonized information to users of chemicals with the goal of enhancing the protection of human health and the environment.

Around the world, countries have regulatory systems for chemical classification and hazard communication. The systems may look similar, but their differences can lead to multiple interpretations and inconsistencies for classifications, labels and Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for the same product. Moving to one standard in the age of global trade simplifies regulations and improves the safety of workers who interact with chemical hazards.

When Did MSDS Become SDS?

MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) is now called an SDS (Safety Data Sheet). The transition from MSDS to SDS began in the early 2000s and has continued worldwide.

The purpose of both MSDS and SDS documents remains unchanged and is to list the information pertaining to the occupational health and safety for the various uses of the substances and products. MSDS and SDS are where you go if you need more information on the product and what to do if there is exposure to the product or a spill.

What is an MSDS vs SDS?

MSDS was the original system for providing information about the properties of chemical products. Whereas SDS is the updated system that conforms to GHS standards. In comparison to SDS, MSDS was less standardized and not globally recognized. 

What is the Difference Between MSDS and SDS?

Since the shift from MSDS to SDS, the information and verbiage on the documents have changed. What was known as “controlled products" on the MSDS are now called "hazardous products" on the SDS.  Suppliers are still responsible for classifying their products, writing labels, authoring SDSs, and sending these labels with the products at the time of sale.

SDS Signal Words

SDSs, unlike MSDSs, now have signal words, these include:  

  • Warning - which means a less serious hazard

  • Danger - which means a more serious hazard. 

SDS Hazard Classifications

Hazard Classifications for the product on an SDS include: 

  1. Health Hazard Classes: these are based on the ability of the product to impact health such as eye irritation, respiratory sensitization, or carcinogenicity.

  1. Physical Hazard Classes: these are based on the physical or chemical properties of a product such as reactivity, flammability, or corrosivity.

  1. Environmental Hazard Classes: this classification is not mandatory under WHMIS 2015 but is based on things like aquatic toxicity.  

These are broken down further into categories.

SDS Labelling Updates

The MSDS did not mandate specific labeling, while the SDS made it necessary for manufacturers and importers to include labels and precautionary statements. Under the new SDS requirements, labels must now include: 

  • A hazard statement for each hazard class and category 
  • A pictogram 
  • A signal word 

How Many Sections Are in the MSDS vs the SDS? 

MSDSs had 9 sections and they varied greatly in structure and information. SDSs now have a standard 16-section format with signal words (Warning or Danger), universally standardized hazard and precautionary statements, and hazard pictograms.

GHS Hazard Pictograms

Hazard pictograms are now red and white symbols or a Red Square tilted 45° on a point Pictogram.


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