How to Write an SDS: Your Guide to SDS Authoring as a Supplier in Canada

How to Write a Safety Data Sheet

This is a comprehensive guide on how to write an SDS for Canadian chemical suppliers.  Chemscape Safety Technologies has been providing SDS authoring services to Canadian companies for over 15 years.  This guide was developed to help businesses involved in the manufacturing, importing, and distributing of chemicals in Canada to answer common questions about regulatory requirements for writing SDS sheets and industry best-practices on SDS authoring.

Table of Contents

  1. Supplier (Importer/Distributor) requirements under WHMIS 2015
  2. Classification of Hazardous Products
  3. Supplier Expectations for Safety Data Sheets
  4. What is the process of creating an SDS?
  5. Best Practices when choosing a lab for your product analysis
  6. Classification of an SDS: What is it based on?
  7. When do I need to update an SDS under WHMIS 2015?
  8. Do I need to provide an SDS with every shipment of a hazardous product if it is sent to the same customer and the SDS has not been updated?
  9. How long do I have to update the SDS after significant new data is found on the hazardous product?
  10. What can prompt a change in an SDS?
  11. What if I have confidential business information? Do I have to include this in the SDS?
  12. What needs to be on a GHS Label in Canada?
  13. What are Supplier Obligations to Prepare and Maintain True Copies of Labels?
  14. What are Supplier Obligations to Maintain Records of an SDS?
  15. How do SDSs differ between countries?
  16. Can you spot a poorly written Safety Data Sheet?
  17. The use of prescribed concentration ranges on an SDS for Suppliers

Chemical Supplier (Importer/Distributor) requirements under WHMIS 2015

Under WHMIS 2015, hazardous chemical suppliers need to: 

  1. Ensure the appropriate classification of hazardous products 

  1. Provide GHS labels for hazardous products 

  1. Provide Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for hazardous products 

Classification of Hazardous Products

WHMIS 2015 has many hazard classes. Most classes have criteria similar to those for WHMIS 1988 hazard classes and divisions. Some new hazard classes have been added, for example, Aspiration Hazard. The WHMIS 2015 hazard classes have subdivisions (called "categories" or "types") that reflect varying degrees of hazard. Note that there is specific guidance for classifying mixtures for health hazards.

The hazard classifications of a chemical product are based on a comparison of all available hazard data against the WHMIS 2015 criteria. This data must be generated by test methods that are scientifically sound and valid.

Supplier Expectations for Safety Data Sheets

The safety data sheet helps you identify hazardous materials and gives you full details on what the hazards are. It provides instructions on how to work safely with hazardous products and spells out the exact steps you need to take if there is an emergency. It is where to go if you need more information on chemical safety.

You need to ship hazardous products with an SDS. If a hazardous product enters your customers' workplace it requires an SDS and the product should be quarantined until one is obtained.  

The SDS must be provided in both English and French. SDSs need to follow GHS classification and standard 16-section format with specified headings. 

The SDSs must be accurate at the time of sale or import, for each hazardous product sale or import.

What is the process of creating an SDS?

Having an accurate and compliant Safety Data Sheet for your hazardous products is a critical process for any environment, health and safety (EH&S) department to meet global regulatory complexities.  

Chemical Hazard Classification is the foundation for building a Safety Data Sheet. In Canada, nearly every sentence of an SDS is derived from or based on GHS and TDG classification in some way.

Accurate hazard classification is based on good quality data

The hazard classification process begins with collecting samples of your hazardous product. You need to obtain and provide representative samples for laboratories and conduct a proper analysis.

Best practices when choosing a lab for your hazardous product analysis

  1. Use an accredited, independent, off-site laboratory to do your analyses.  

  1. Check to see if the lab has experience doing analyses on your type of hazardous product, including the industry and its regulations.  

  1. Accreditation of the lab is important (i.e. NALA, SCC, ISO). 

  1. Someone from your company with knowledge of the substance & regulations should direct the laboratory in the analysis to conduct.  

  1. The lab should advise on the capability and the limitations of the methods. 

  1. Analyses are conducted according to standardized procedures. (typically ASTM Standards, EPA, inline calibrated instruments) 

  1. A company representative should review the test methods and results before classifying the hazardous products. 

  1. Discrepancies with previous results may warrant further investigation.


Professional SDS Authoring by experts, not software


What is the hazard classification of an SDS based on?

The results from the laboratory data determines the roadmap for hazard classification and interpretation by the SDS Author. SDS authors base hazard classification of an SDS on the following factors: 

• Composition  

• Physical and Chemical Properties  

• Toxicological Information – either on the product as a whole or the components 
When reviewing the information on a product an SDS author needs to be mindful of regulatory data such as classifications; restricted substance, health-based data such as occupational exposure limits (OELs), or lists related to carcinogenicity and sensitization. In addition, there are other sources of data that may come into play, such as physical, chemical, ecotoxicity and toxicity data, dangerous goods classifications, and hazardous product supplier data.

GHS Classification: Health and Physical Hazard Classes

The chemical and physical properties drive the GHS Health and Physical Classifications for a hazardous product. Once the product has been classified, the remainder of the SDS authoring will support this GHS classification. 

SDS Country and Language Requirements

There can be unique regional/country specific requirements including which information is mandatory and optional for an SDS in Canada and the USA. At this point of the process translation into other languages such as English/French in Canada may be required.

A new SDS is published – now what?

Archive your old SDSs. Maintain SDS documentation of details regarding revision information, to respond to the constantly changing government requirements. Perhaps establishing a quality assurance or quality control process can reduce risk of errors and inconsistencies.

When do I need to update an SDS under WHIMIS 2015?

It is a requirement to update the SDS when significant new information becomes available. As a hazardous product supplier, you should be continuously reviewing and updating your SDSs if changes to your product or the regulation occurs. You have a duty to communicate this to your customers with the most current SDS for the hazardous product. This is supposed to be an improvement to the previous 3-year rule under WHMIS 1988.

The significant new data must be provided separately until the update is complete. There is an exemption period for updating GHS compliant labels (and SDSs) when significant new data becomes available.

Do I need to provide an SDS with every shipment of a hazardous product if it is sent to the same customer and the SDS has not been updated?

An SDS is not required to be provided with every shipment of the same hazardous product sold to the exact same customer, as long as they have received the most up to date SDS available for that hazardous product and are compliant with HPR. You can refer to section 5.11(b) of the Hazardous Products Regulations (HPR) for more information.

How long do I have to update the SDS after significant new data is found on the hazardous product?

Suppliers have 90 days to update the SDS and 180 days to update the label, from the date the new information becomes available.

If there is a sale or importation of the product during that period, the new information including the date the changes became available, must be communicated to the purchaser or to the importer.

What can prompt a change in an SDS?

  • A new chemical composition in the manufacturing of a product can introduce new hazards. 

  • Recent health studies could reveal increased hazards of a substance.  

  • Transportation and OHS regulations continuously change prompting SDS revisions for some products.  

  • Adoption of a new GHS revision standards can introduce new classifications.  

What if I have confidential business information? Do I have to include this in the SDS?

Suppliers (or employers) who apply to withhold confidential business information (CBI) must continue to meet label and SDS requirements. These requirements include the details of any safety precautions workers need to take when using the product and the first aid treatment required in the case of chemical exposure. This approach balances the worker’s right to know with the industry’s right to protect CBI.

What needs to be included in a GHS Label in Canada?

If you are a supplier of chemical products you need to create GHS labels with your SDS. The label should be affixed to the product container. In Canada, supplier GHS labels need to be written in French and English. They may be bilingual as one label or available as two separate GHS labels – one in English and one in French. The GHS label must be accurate at the time of sale or import, for each sale or import of a hazardous chemical product.

There are 7 elements that need to be on a GHS label in Canada:

  1. The Product Identifier

    The brand name, chemical name, common name or trade name of the hazardous product. 

  2. Pictograms

    Clearly identify the health and physical hazards of the product. These are derived from the hazard classification of the product.

  3. Initial Supplier Identifier

    The name, address, and telephone number either of the Canadian manufacturer or Canadian importer.

  4. Signal

    Words used to alert the reader to a potential hazard and indicate the severity of the hazard. Signal words are based on how a product is classified so not every product will have a signal word. They are only assigned to products with severe hazards. If a product has a signal word it will be either “Danger” or “Warning”. Danger is more severe than Warning. Danger means you need to be extra vigilant around the product.

  5. Hazard Statements

    This includes standardized phrases with a related number and describes the hazards of the product and the severity of the hazard. A product can have multiple hazard statements.

  6. Precautionary Statements

    Standardized phrase describes the measures you need to take to protect yourself when handling or storing the hazardous product. They should include steps you should take to minimize exposure to a product, what to do in the event of an exposure (first aid), how to store the product safely, and how to dispose of the product.

  7. Supplemental Information

    This includes information that is based on the classification of the product. For example, the label for a mixture containing ingredients with unknown toxicity in amounts higher than or equal to 1% must include a statement indicating the percent of the ingredient or ingredients with unknown toxicity. Labels may also include supplementary information about precautionary actions, hazards not yet included in WHMIS, physical state, or route of exposure. This information must not contradict or detract from the standardized information.

Professional SDS Authoring by experts, not software

What is the Supplier Obligation to Prepare and Maintain True Copies of GHS Labels?

Suppliers need to prepare and maintain a true copy of a GHS label. Every supplier who sells or imports a hazardous product that is intended for use, handling or storage in a workplace in Canada shall prepare and maintain a document containing a true copy of a GHS label that represents the label that is affixed to, printed on or attached to the hazardous product or the container in which the hazardous product is packaged, when they sell or import the hazardous product.

If an inspector enters your workplace, they may request that the supplier provides a true copy of the hazardous product. The inspector will assess whether the GHS label and/or SDS for a hazardous product is compliant with the requirements of the HPA and/or the HPR.  

This includes:

  • Does the label and/or SDS comply with the document retention requirements of the HPA? 
  • Is the actual label that is affixed to, printed on or attached to the hazardous product or the container in which it is packaged in compliance with HPR requirements?

An inspector must be able to look at a “true copy” of a GHS label, that meets the following requirements:

  • In colour  
  • Legible  
  • Clear 
  • Representative of the true size of the label.

What are Supplier Obligations to Maintain Records of an SDS?

Section 14.3 of the HPA requires suppliers of hazardous products to prepare and maintain documents, including true copies of GHS labels and SDSs as well as sales and purchasing information. These documents must be provided to the Minister or an inspector upon written request and must be stored in Canada and retained for a specified period of time.

Suppliers are expected to prepare and maintain the following documents:

  1. True copy of a GHS label

    A true copy of a GHS label in both official languages, unless the label is not required as a result of an exemption under the HPR (e.g., sale or importation of a bulk shipment or a hazardous product without packaging of any sort); and,

  2. True copy of an SDS

    A true copy of a safety data sheet in both official languages. If the supplier has obtained the hazardous product from another person, the supplier must prepare and maintain a document containing the following information:

    • the name and address of the person from whom the supplier obtained the hazardous product;  
    • the quantity of the hazardous product obtained; and, the month and year in which the supplier obtained it.
  3. Records of sales

    A record of sales of the hazardous product should be kept:

    • locations at which sales took place (i.e., address of the supplier’s place of business); and, 
    • time period the sales took place (i.e. January 1, 2019 to Dec 1, 2019), and, for each month in that period, the quantity sold during the month (i.e. January 2019 = 12 units; July 2019 = 123 tons; Oct 2019 = 2234 L).

How do SDSs differ between countries?

Although GHS has introduced standardized communication for GHS Labels and Safety Data Sheets, each country has adopted these standards into their own legislation, and SDSs still vary by country. A variance may result in a different hazard classification, labelling, SDS or other information requirements for a hazardous product in Canada versus another like the USA. An experienced SDS author can help you navigate the constantly changing hazard classification and regulatory landscape.

GHS means harmonization and not standardization.

The Globally Harmonized System was created by the United Nations. It is currently in Revision 8. The GHS was created with a building block approach and this allows countries to adopt the standards into their jurisdictions as best suits them. Every country decides what revision to implement. For example, currently the USA uses revision 3 and Canada uses revision 5.

Countries also have regulations for transportation of hazardous products and the environment.

On top of GHS standards, every country has regulations like transportation or environmental regulations that may differ and need to be integrated into Safety Data Sheet authoring. Transportation and the environment are optional building blocks in the USA and Canada.

Local regulations and hazard classifications keep changing.

If you pay attention to TDG in Canada, particularly since the Lac Megantic tragedy, you will be aware of how these regulations are not static and require someone to keep up to date with hazardous product regulatory changes.

Classification of substances vary between countries.

As there are different revisions of the GHS being adopted by different countries, we see substances classified differently between jurisdictions. Differences in SDSs by country may be a result of one or more the below reasons:

  1. Toxicity data of hazardous substances is ever changing.

    Research is constantly evolving with new data being published daily on the effects of toxicity of certain substances like carcinogens on humans, animals, and the environment. 

  2. Exposure scenarios can be difficult to predict.

    The SDS author often needs to work with the client to predict possible exposure scenarios. Data can often be lacking or absent.

  3. Exposure cut-offs can vary between countries.

    What may be considered non-hazardous in one country may have greater restrictions in another.

  4. Ingredients can be allowed for commerce in one country and not in another.

    In Canada the Domestic Substance List contains approximately 23,000 substances approved for commercial use, import and manufacture. However, there are restrictions, particularly for environmental toxins.

  5. Concentration ranges differ between countries

    Concentration ranges for ingredients can be used differently in different countries.

  6. Confidential Business information

    CBI is withheld in the client’s best interest and there are different methods to do this according to country location.

For all the above reasons, SDSs still differ significantly between countries. SDSs should still be updated on a routine basis to ensure current data is available. In BC, Saskatchewan and the Territories their provincial WHMIS 2015 laws require the employer to check every 3-years if any significant data have changed. For suppliers, the SDSs must be accurate at the time of sale or import. It is a requirement to update the SDS when significant new information becomes available.

Can you spot a poorly written Safety Data Sheet?

There are many options for Safety Data Sheet authoring on the market. Here are some red flags we see when examining SDSs written by low-cost providers and automated authoring programs. The results are poorly written SDSs that do not conform to GHS standards, provide inaccurate information and can even be GHS non-compliant.

An inexperienced and untrained SDS Author

Does your SDS Author have proper training, experience and credentials? Deerfoot Consulting uses Registered SDS Authors, registered since 2013, which is the premier standard for this work.

The structure, presentation and required elements of the SDS do not conform to GHS Standards

With the implementation of GHS, there is greater structure than there used to be in WHMIS 1988.  Chemscape frequently observes short comings in the hazard classification, presentation of required elements and structure of the document.

Use of inaccurate hazard classification

This is a bit alarming but sometimes incorrect symbols can be used with the hazard classifications the author has listed. 

Omission of precautionary statements

Chemscape developed a reference document which consolidated the official GHS Purple Book.  This reference document clearly identifies hazard classifications (not how to classify but what statements must be included after classification).  There is some latitude regarding Precautionary Statements based on professional opinion but to entirely exclude Statements these is wrong.

No Signal Word or Improper Placement

The signal word (Danger or Warning) needs to be displayed for the product as required according to the WHMIS Act and Regulation. 

No contact information for SDS author

A reputable SDS author will put their business name and valid contact number on the SDS. If the SDS is ever used as evidence in a court of law, the author may be required to testify and provide records to justify their classification and sampling data.

The old MSDS was simply retitled as an SDS

Yes, it is true. Our data entry department attests to having seen companies swap out the old 9-section MSDS with a new title that says Safety Data Sheet, but no other changes have been made other than a new issue date.

Professional SDS Authoring by experts, not software


The use of prescribed concentration ranges on an SDS for Suppliers

Within WHMIS 1988 Controlled Products Regulations (CPR), Suppliers had the option to use prescribed concentration ranges within the ingredient section of their MSDS. This was used for products where the ingredient concentration could vary from batch to batch. It was also used by Suppliers (including Manufacturers and Importers) to protect trade secrets of one or more hazardous ingredients; rather than providing actual concentrations they were able to use a range.

Prescribed Concentration Ranges can be used as follows:

(a) from 0.1 to 1%; 

(b) from 0.5 to 1.5%; 

(c) from 1 to 5%; 

(d) from 3 to 7%; 

(e) from 5 to 10%; 

(f) from 7 to 13%; 

(g) from 10 to 30%; 

(h) from 15 to 40%; 

(i) from 30 to 60%; 

(j) from 45 to 70%; 

(k) from 60 to 80%; 

(l) from 65 to 85%; and 

(m) from 80 to 100%. 

What do I need to know about CBI Claims as a Supplier?

Using a concentration range is an alternative to submitting a Confidential Business Information (CBI) claim through Health Canada. If confidentiality is a top concern, a CBI claim, once approved, allows your business to list an ingredient as proprietary on the SDS, along with the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act (HMIRA) number that Health Canada has assigned to your claim. This number ensures that information about hazardous ingredient(s) can be accessed in the case of an emergency or by medical professionals as needed, therefore this number must be included on the SDS. Submitting a CBI claim can be costly and time-consuming for both the Suppliers and Health Canada.

If using a concentration range for SDS authoring as a supplier:

A statement that the actual concentration is withheld as a trade secret must be shown immediately following the prescribed concentration range on an SDS. 

If your actual concentration range falls into more than one of the above prescribed ranges, you may combine two consecutive concentration ranges but only if the actual concentration is between 0.1%-30%. If it falls within one range, one prescribed range must be used. 

This amendment does not apply to disclosing the identity of your hazardous ingredient(s), including CAS registry number. A CBI claim must be approved before a business can list an ingredient identity as confidential.   

The GHS hazard classifications must still reflect the most hazardous concentration of each ingredient. 

Updated SDSs that were previously authored without prescribed concentration ranges, so that revised SDSs are compliant with the HPR; showing the correct, prescribed ranges and corresponding GHS information. 

Expert SDS Authoring Services by Deerfoot Consulting

Deerfoot Consulting has authored thousands of SDSs and Chemical Supplier Labels for a variety of clients globally and internationally since its incorporation in the year 2000. We are based in Calgary and as a result, have significant experience in SDS authoring for the Oil and Gas industry. Since 2013, Deerfoot has written Globally Harmonized System (GHS) Safety Data Sheets.

We are well trained and experienced in the required elements and structure of SDS Authoring. If you need bilingual (English/French) or multilingual Safety Data Sheets or require SDSs for cross-border trade to satisfy numerous jurisdictions (Canada/USA), Deerfoot can help to ensure you have an SDS and GHS Compliant label for your product.