The Difference Between MSDS & 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 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 a classification, label 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 for workers who interact with hazardous products.

From MSDS to SDS

MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) is now called an SDS (Safety Data Sheet).  

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 product or a spill.


Since the shift from MSDS to SDS the information and verbiage on the documents has changed. What were called controlled products on the MSDS are now called hazardous products on the SDS.  Suppliers are still responsible to classify their products, write labels and author SDSs, and send them with products at the time of sale.

Signal Words

SDSs, unlike MSDSs now have signal words:  

  • Warning which means a less serious hazard

  • Danger which means a more serious hazard. 

Hazard Classifications

Hazard Classifications for the product on an SDS include: 

  1. Health Hazard Classes 

  1. Physical Hazard Classes 

  1. Environmental Hazard Classes 

These are broken down further into categories.

Sections of MSDS vs Sections of 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.  

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