Safety Data Sheets

What Is a Safety Data Sheet (SDS)?

SDSs provide students, researchers, workers, and emergency personnel with the proper procedures for handling a pure chemical, as well as information for what to do in an emergency situation involving the chemical.

Chemical manufacturers, distributors, or importers are required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to provide an SDS for any potentially hazardous chemical substance.

SDSs are part of the Globally Harmonized System for Hazard Communication (GHS). The GHS sets internationally agreed-to standards for hazard testing, warning pictograms, and more.

What's the Purpose of an SDS?

SDSs are designed to educate workers on how to prevent exposure and reduce workplace incidents involving chemicals. They are meant to always be consulted before working with a material or developing a new process.

If an exposure or incident does occur while using a product, the SDS for that product will have information about what to do.  

Note: An SDS is useful in this context only if a single chemical is involved. Many accidents occur as a result of mixtures of chemicals. Accidental mixtures of chemicals are not in the purview of SDSs.

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What Information Is in an SDS?

OSHA requires that every SDS provide information outlined in all of the following 16 categories:

  • Identification
  • Hazard(s) identification
  • Composition/information on ingredients
  • First-aid measures
  • Fire-fighting measures
  • Accidental release measures
  • Handling and storage
  • Exposure controls/personal protection
  • Physical and chemical properties
  • Stability and reactivity
  • Toxicological information
  • Ecological information
  • Disposal considerations
  • Transport information
  • Regulatory information
  • Other information

Check out OSHA's brief detailing information that is expected to be included in each of the 16 categories.

Who Are SDSs for?

Anyone (students, researchers, etc.) working in a laboratory using chemicals will need to use SDSs.

Outside of a laboratory, SDSs are only required for occupational use (i.e., not consumer use). Employers are required to maintain them for employees who will be working with a potentially hazardous chemical.

Some consumers may be interested in checking out SDSs for chemicals commonly found in homes (like bleach or drain cleaner) to learn more about potential hazards and proper handling. Or, it may happen that (for example) a homeowner wants to see an SDS for a substance a contractor has used in their home that they believe may be harmful. (E.g., They're bothered by fumes or odors from newly installed carpet, flooring, sealants etc.) Even though there's no legal requirement to make SDSs available to end users, still many sellers of consumer chemicals will supply them upon request.

More About Safety Data Sheets

How to Find an SDS

In general, one of the easiest ways to find an SDS for a specific chemical is through Google search. Enter:

  • Chemical name (e.g., sodium chloride)
  • "safety data sheet"
  • Manufacturer's name, if you have it.

So, your search will look something like this: "sodium chloride safety data sheet fisher scientific".

Note: Chemical formulations can vary. If you're looking for an SDS for a specific consumer product, it's important to find the one from the manufacturer of that product.

This collection of methods and tools for assessing hazards in research laboratories is based on the publication, Identifying and Evaluating Hazards in Research Laboratories [PDF]. The guide was published in 2015 by the Hazard Identification and Evaluation Task Force of the American Chemical Society’s Committee on Chemical Safety in response to a recommendation from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

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