Everything you need to know about Safety Data Sheets

Your ultimate guide to safety data sheet management 

Safety Data Sheets by EcoOnline_hero-1
Section 1

Introduction to Safety Data Sheets (SDSs)

This Safety Data Sheet Management guide aims to provide you with information on how you can improve chemical management in your organisation. We will begin by providing you with an introduction to safety data sheets and the associated legislation governing them in the workplace. Once we have covered the basics, we will delve into the key steps to building an effective safety data sheet management system in your organisation. This guide will also give you a better understanding of the CLP and REACH Regulations and how they affect your organisation.

After reading this guide you should have a better understanding of how to manage safety data sheets in your workplace. This allows you to identify any chemicals with the potential to cause harm to employees or the workplace.

In a study completed by the European Chemical Agency in 2019 it was found that:

"44% of hazardous mixtures were not compliant with classification and labellng obligations”

Knowing and understanding the regulations is the first step in providing a safe work environment.

Safety data sheet management is the backbone of chemical safety and its significance is vital. The safety data sheet is the main source of information for employers and employees which

outlines the hazards of chemicals and the risks they pose to people and our environment, as well as measures to control the risks. safety data sheets are vital sources of information to correctly manage health and safety in the workplace. 

However, SDSs themselves are not enough.  The SDS itself does not take into account your specific location, task or how you use the product.  Therefore it is important that you create a chemical risk assessment which takes into account these additional requirements.  Safety data sheets are essential documents in a set format that are used to inform all employees and safety personnel about how chemical substances and mixtures of substances can be safely handled, used, stored, disposed and any emergency measures needed in case an accident or incident occurs.

Safety data sheets (SDS), sometimes referred to by the old name material safety data sheets (MSDS), have had many formats over the years. Since the introduction of the GHS Regulations, a new structured, unified and standardised approach was introduced globally to ensure the safe use of chemicals. Although not all countries worldwide have yet adopted the GHS Regulations, since 1st June 2015 in Europe, all new SDS compiled must conform to the new SDS format.

Safety data sheets are divided into 16 sections and additional subsections. In this guide we will outline the main elements in each section and explore their significance. It is important that all staff have read the SDS for all the chemicals that they are working with and have knowledge to understand the SDS. Manufacturers/suppliers will usually provide SDSs with the product either

electronically or in hard copy.  If they don’t the onus is on the company/user of the chemical to contact the manufacturer and request a safety data sheet or find a reputable supplier who will supply a SDS.

Before the product is brought on site review the hazards and determine if it is suitable i.e. don’t bring a product onsite if there are safer alternatives.  It is not enough to have a safety data sheet; you must have the relevant safety data sheet compliant for your geographical region.

A compliant SDS should have the following in the United Kingdom, EU and America.

·        Sixteen sections

·        Classified and labelled under GHS/CLP

·        In the language of the market where the product is being positioned.

Section 2

Safety Data Sheet Legislation

Safety data sheets must be authored in accordance with the REACH (Regulation (EC) No. 1907/2006) and CLP Regulations (Regulation (EC) No. 1272/2008).  These regulations set out the requirements regarding classification of the product and format of the SDS. 

Article 31 of REACH requires that a supplier of a chemical (manufacturer, importer, downstream user, distributor) must provide their customer with a compliant SDS if the chemical they supply is

hazardous.  In some cases, SDSs must also be provided for non-hazardous chemicals which meet specific criteria as outlined in the Regulations. 

Annex II of REACH Regulation (EC) No. 1907/2006 has always laid out the requirements for compiling an SDS since its introduction in 2007.  In 2015, Annex II was revised by Regulation (EC) No. 2015/830 to take account of changes in the CLP Regulation and the 5th Edition of the United Nations Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).

Under the REACH regulations in Europe, safety data sheets must be updated or reissued:

· Once  new product information is added that may change the chemical risk or hazard such as a new classification. An updated SDS must be issued.

· If an authorisation by ECHA has been granted or refused;

· Or if a restriction has been imposed by ECHA

Section 3

Understanding your SDS

he majority of companies who buy/use chemicals will understand their legislative requirements with regards to obtaining and retaining a safety data sheet for those products.  However, large quantities of companies do not understand what they should do with the information provided in the SDSs they have sourced.  All data provided is created with the aim to ensure the protection of all users of chemicals.     

The safety data sheet as per the guidelines from REACH must contain the following 16 headings:

The most important sections are Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 15.

Section 1:

This section includes the contact details of the supplier, (Product name, company name, address, phone number in the case of an emergency and person responsible.

what a safety data sheet looks like

Section 2:


Provides an overview of the physical and health hazard risks associated with using the chemical.

Section 2 of your product SDS aims to provide you with an overview of the particular hazards associated with your chemical and the information required on the product label.

The CLP Regulations in Europe subdivide this section into further subsections:

  • The hazard classification of the product
  • Signal word
  • Pictograms
  • Hazard statement(s)
  • Precautionary statements
  • Description of any hazards not otherwise classified
  • Additional requirements as outlined by specific legislation

The hazard classification is usually the first item you will find in Section 2.  This information is essential when assessing the risk to the workers and the environment.  The CLP Regulation introduces a number of different classification hazards under the groups; physical, health and environmental.  These hazards can range from acute toxicity to environmental hazards to skin sensitisation.

Although companies have some leeway with regards to how they display this information, they cannot exclude the information from their SDSs altogether.


Section 3:


This section includes the formula, formula weight, concentration and CAS Number.


Section 4:


Tells you what to do if a hazardous situation occurs.


Section 5:


If a chemical causes a fire understand PPE needed and method of extinguishing best to tackle

the fire.


Section 6:


Appropriate response to spills, leaks, or releases are outlined in this section, including containment and clean-up practices to prevent or minimize exposure to people, properties, or the environment. Each chemical will need to have specific information on how best to handle it. Plus, it will vary depending on quantity, hazard etc.


Section 7:


Here you'll find special storage and usage tips to avoid accidents and improve safety.


Section 8:


This section provides information on personal protective equipment, such as goggles and gloves.


Section 9:


This section outlines the physical and chemical properties associated with the substance or mixture.


Section 10:


It outlines the hazardous reactions that may occur if the chemical is used under certain conditions.

It is subdivided into 3 areas: reactivity, chemical stability and other.


Section 11:


A detailed description on how the material may harm or injure you. This includes routes of exposure, related symptoms, acute and chronic effects and numerical measures of toxicity.


Section 12:


It outlines the potential impact the chemical may have if it were released into the environment.


Section 13:


It outlines how the chemical should be disposed and handled and reviewed in terms or recycling containers exposed t the chemical. Reviewing Section 8 is important before undertaking any procedures for disposal.


Section 14:


If you are transporting the chemicals by road, air, rail, or sea you must evaluate the transport detail.


Section 15:


It identifies the chemical legislation EU/National in relation to the specific chemical product.


Section 16:


This section gives any other information relevant to the chemical e.g. training advice, full text of hazard statements, preparation or revisions of the SDS, any other information.

Section 4

What should you do when you receive an SDS?


When you receive an SDS you should review it to ensure it is compliant with the Regulations and the procedures you have onsite.

The following should be reviewed:

  • Does it have  16 sections. 
  • Verify that the language is correct for your market i.e. English. Is it clear and accurate?
  • Check that it is dated, and any revision date and details of revisions are provided.
  • You must file the documents (new and archived versions of the SDS). It can be a hard copy or via digital means.
  • The SDS must be reviewed, analysed and key information identified. The most important sections that should be prioritised is Section 1, 2, 3, 8,  9, 14. The SDS information will help for chemical risk assessment measures, deciding what PPE to have onsite and emergency policy in relation to chemical safety.
  • Ensure that the details on the chemical’s label are exactly as given in sections 1 and 2 of the SDS.  
  • The onus is on the chemical user/ company to contact the supplier and request an updated version if not satisfied with the information provided
  • The SDS must be the basis for the information to prepare chemical risk assessments, inform employees of the hazards of the chemical, outline the protective measures to be taken when using it and the measures to be taken in an emergency
  • All employees must be able to access safety data sheets and know how to understand them to make safe decisions.
  • It is also good practice to regularly check the SDSs to ensure that the most accurate and up to date version is easily accessible
Section 5

Challenges and pain points of safety data sheet management 

•      Expansion of Tasks - Chemical Safety is only one small part of EHS’s job

•      Costly – Sourcing safety data sheets and ensuring compliance is time and resource heavy

•      Ongoing Task – New SDS’s and updated versions of safety data sheets needed. A lot of admin involved and document management.

•      Not connected - Lack of standard system across different areas of the organisation

•      Complicated - No handle on hazards/risks on site (Carcinogens, Pregnancy Hazards, Flammables etc)

•      Uncertainty - No overall picture of SDS and Chemical Safety Compliance across the organisation

•      Manual - Paper trails and cumbersome for all staff to be in the know on critical chemical SDS information when they need it most. The safety data sheets need to be readily available to all staff throughout the organisation in all locations that have chemicals.

•      Poor system - Distributing SDS & risk assessment information is challenging to all staff in all locations

•      Labour Intensive - Its time consuming and laborious to contact and recontact manufacturers annually to obtain the safety data sheets.

•      Information Overload - The health and safety team and all staff must make sense of all the information and make critical real time decisions based on the data.

Section 6

Best Practice Tips to Achieve SDS Management Success

EcoOnline has over 20 years’ experience working with over 6,000 clients.  During this time, we have tried, tested and gathered extensive experience on the different methods of SDS management.  This has allowed us to determine what is the best tips to achieving a successful SDS management system.

The following steps have been identified as best practice for organisations:

1. Have a Chemical Inventory

Keep an  inventory of all chemical products on site including SDSs. This is simply a list of all chemical products on site that are manufactured, imported or used by the company. The inventory can be as simple or complex as you like as long as some key information is included:

  • Chemical name/ product name
  • Supplier/manufacturers details.
  • Identifier i.e. CAS Number.

2. Hazard Information. Record the correct information

Incorrect or partial data collected for products can be a hindrance when it comes to actually sourcing your SDS.  Manufacturer websites will often ask you for the exact product number or product grade in order to source the correct information.  Any additional time spent on sourcing this information in the beginning of your process will lead to time saved in the sourcing process. 

Make sure this is clearly communicated to the individuals who are tasked with building product inventories by department before they even start.


3. Source safety data sheets centrally

While it is good practice to give individual areas/departments responsibility for managing their own chemical product inventory, it can be a huge time and resource saver to centralise the actual updating and management of safety data sheets. Asking individual departments to update their own safety data sheet can result in a significant duplication of work where products or manufacturers are common across a number of departments.

4. Source safety data sheets from manufacturers

Even if you are sourcing your products from a wholesaler or 3rd party supplier, the product manufacturer is the only place to go to ensure you get the latest up to date product safety data sheet. When using a safety data sheet from any source other than the manufacturer, you are counting on that source having updated the SDS with the manufacturer before passing it onto you.

5. Only contact a manufacturer once

When contacting a manufacturer to source Safety Data Sheets, ensure you are asking them for all the documents you require at once. Having to go back to the same manufacturer numerous times for assorted products is a waste of resources.

6. Record where Safety Data Sheets are sourced

The most time-consuming part of sourcing safety data sheets is finding the right method of sourcing products from each individual manufacturer. Whether this is an email address that queries must be sent to or a website with a login or even an old-fashioned phone number that connects you with the right person in the manufacturers EHS department. Whenever the correct route to safety data sheets for an individual manufacturer is identified, it should be recorded so that the next time someone in the organisation has to source an SDS from the same manufacturer, the information is available for them.

7. SDS's should be dated and controlled under revision control

SDSs should be dated and controlled under revision control. Record this information in your product inventory for an easy way of determining which SDSs are old.

8. Train staff

Do your staff know what an SDS is?  Employers should provide some basic awareness on this. For example, section 4 is First Aid, do your staff know this? If not, the safety data sheet will not be useful to employees using the chemicals.

9. Go digital and via a mobile app

A digital system will allow for an easy access for all employees. Ideally having the system available in a mobile app and one that people can access even if offline. This will allow all employees to view the SDS on the go and in the field when they need it most when coming in contact with harmful and hazardous chemicals.

10. Extract Relevant Information

Decide what key sections you need to extract data from in the SDS. This is time consuming but important. The key sections to extract data are Section 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 14.  This information will also assist you with the completion of your Chemical Risk Assessments.


Section 7

Digital Safety Management Solutions

The EcoOnline Chemical Manager team source the safety data sheets for your region. This allows your team to ascertain the correct regional safety data sheet information to ensure you are compliant and staff members can access relevant chemical information when required.

Did you know you can use Chemical Manager to identify compliance with regulations associated with your safety data sheets?

Chemical Manager also has a multi-lingual service to assist with translating SDS to the specific location where your product will be marketed.

We are building a database of the regulations listed on your safety data sheets, so you can see at a quick glance if you have a compliant safety data sheet for your region.

The EcoOnline Chemical Manager team, source SDS’s directly from the manufacturer and upload a PDF version of the sheet onto our system. We then collect the information from Section 1, 2, 3, 9, 14 and regulations for all our clients.

This information is populated into our database and displayed in an easily understood product screen, that you can filter and customise as you need.

Our system also allows you to complete COSHH Risk Assessments and pull reports on this information so you can keep track of your hazardous products without having to update and keep track on and off-line register. You also have the security of knowing that your product SDSs are annually reviewed to ensure they are up to date and list the current hazards for your products. In addition you can print any chemical labels from the system customised to your bespoke needs and legislation requirements.

All information extracted from each SDS can be used to create reports on the chemicals listed in your inventory. The reporting section is a good place to look when wanting information on your products on Chemical Manager. Whether you need to see if you have any corrosive chemicals or carcinogens, Chemical Manager provides a wide range of report options to help you including:

  • Run real time reports at the click of a button and protect your employees.
  • View SDS’s, identify where you have carcinogens, where you have toxins and the ability to identify skin irritants.
  • Run REACH reports and customised bespoke reports for corporate.

We input all the data and compare against best practice REACH legislation unlike other systems.

Through our data collection process, carried out by trained and dedicated team members, we strive to provide you with usable data to help make your workplace safer.


NEW2 SDS Database_Benefit_2



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Hannah Daly

Account Manager, EcoOnline Ireland

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