Everything you need to know about safety data sheets

If your company handles chemical substances that are hazardous to health, the law requires you to have updated safety data sheets that tell employees how to safely hande them.

On this page, you can read all about the role of safety data sheets and your lawful duties in relation to them.



What is a Safety Data Sheet?

A Safety Data Sheet (SDS) is an essential document in a set format that is used to inform all employees and safety personnel about how chemical substances and mixtures of substances can be safely handled, used, stored and disposed. A SDS also contains an overview of any emergency measures needed in case an accident or incident occurs.

Safety Data Sheets are sometimes referred to by the old name, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), but since the introduction of the Global Harmonizing System (GHS), a new structured, unified and standardised approach was introduced globally to ensure the safe use of chemicals.

A SDS is a very important and informative document which allows you to assess hazards associated with the products in use.  The law requires that all chemical suppliers provide an SDS for a hazardous mixture they wish to supply. SDSs should be available where the chemicals are in use. It is important that all staff have read the SDS for all the chemicals that they are working with. Upon receipt of the SDS, it is important to check the document to ensure it is in compliance with the application legislation in the country where it is in use, i.e. UK SDSs should be CLP and REACH compliant.


What is a Safety Data Sheet used for?

A Safety Data Sheet is the backbone of chemical management and its significance is vital to manage health and safety in the workplace. It is 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 Sheet Pain Points

There are a number of difficulties associated with handling safety data sheets, that speak in favor of organisations using software for handling the many safety data sheets:

  • Expansion of Tasks - Chemical Safety is only one small part of HSE manager’s job.
  • Costly – Sourcing Safety Data Sheets and ensuring compliance is time and resource heavy.
  • Ongoing Task – New and updated versions of Safety Data sheets needed, which involves a lot of administrative work.
  • 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.


Read all about the benefits of using EcoOnlines Chemical Manager for managing safety data sheets and chemical risk assessments here >

Why are Safety Data Sheets important?

Safety Data Sheets are the most important sources of information about the hazardous properties of your chemical.

However, SDSs themselves are not enough.  The first step of ensuring chemical safety is to complete an up to date inventory of all chemicals in the workplace. As part of this inventory, safety data sheets should be sourced from the manufacturer or supplier of the product. The manufacturer or supplier of a product is responsible for evaluating and classifying chemicals in accordance with national and international legislation. The identified classification must be communicated to your company by means of a safety data sheet and product label. 

The SDS sheets also plays an important role in the process of a chemical health and safety risk assessment.

What does a Safety Data Sheet contain?

The SDS contains general information about the chemical, such as; the physical, health, and environmental health hazards, protective measures and safety precautions for handling, storing, and transporting the chemical. It also includes technical and scientific information, such as; stability and reactivity information, toxicological information, exposure control information, and other information including the date of preparation or last revision.

The information contained in the SDSs are required to be presented in a consistent user-friendly, 16-section format:

  1. Identification of the substance or mixture and contact information
  2. Hazards Identification
    This section includes the contact details of the supplier (Product name, company name, address, phone number in case of emergency and person responsible)
  3. Composition and information on ingredients
    This section includes the formula, formula weight, concentration and CAS Number.
  4. First aid measures
    Tells you what to do if a hazardous situation occurs
  5. Firefighting measures

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

  6. Accidental release measures

    Appropriate response to spills, leaks, or releases are outlined in this section
  7. Handling and storage
    Here you'll find special storage and usage tips to avoid accidents and improve safety
  8. Exposure controls and personal protective equipment
    This section provides information on personal protective equipment, such as goggles and gloves
  9. Physical and chemical properties
    This section outlines the physical and chemical properties associated with the substance or mixture
  10. Stability and reactivity

    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

  11. Toxicological information

    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
  12. Information on the danger to the environment
    It outlines the potential impact the chemical may have if it were released into the environment
  13. Waste treatment aspects
    It outlines how the chemical should be disposed and handled and reviewed in terms or recycling containers exposed to the chemical
  14. Transport information
    If you are transporting the chemicals by road, air, rail, or sea you must evaluate the transport detail.
  15. Legislative information
    It identifies the chemical legislation EU/National in relation to the specific chemical product
  16. Other information
    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.


Example of what a Safety Data Sheet looks like


what a safety data sheet looks like



How to read a Safety Data Sheet

To help workers who handle hazardous chemicals become familiar with the format and understand the contents of the SDSs and to get to the information quickly, we’ve identified the 7 most important sections. The following description gives an overview of the most important sections you need to know in order to manage your chemical safety effectively:

Section 2: Hazard Identification

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

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


Section 3: Composition:

This section identifies the ingredient(s) contained in the product indicated on the SDS, including impurities and stabilizing additives, formula, formula weight, concentration and CAS-number.


Section 4: First-Aid Measures:

This section describes the initial care that should be given by untrained responders to an individual who has been exposed to the chemical. The required information consists of:

  • Necessary first-aid instructions by relevant routes of exposure (inhalation, skin and eye contact, and ingestion).
  • Description of the most important symptoms or effects, and any symptoms that are acute or delayed.
  • Recommendations for immediate medical care and special treatment needed, when necessary.


Section 7: Handling & Storage:

Here you will find guidance on the safe handling practices and conditions for safe storage of chemicals. The required information consists of:

  • Precautions for safe handling, including recommendations for handling incompatible chemicals, minimizing the release of the chemical into the environment, and providing advice on general hygiene practices (e.g., eating, drinking, and smoking in work areas is prohibited).
  • Recommendations on the conditions for safe storage, including any incompatibilities. Provide advice on specific storage requirements (e.g., ventilation requirements)


Section 8: Exposure controls/personal protection:

This section provides information on personal protective equipment, that can be used to minimize worker exposure, such as goggles and gloves.


Section 11: Toxicological Information:

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 15: Regulatory Information:

Regulatory information used by regulatory compliance personnel.

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.

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


Download Guide: 7 Most Important Sections in a Safety Data Sheet


Safety Data Sheet and REACH

In accordance with the REACH Regulation (Regulation (EC) No. 1907/2006), all manufacturers or producers of hazardous substances must provide an SDS with any hazardous substances or chemicals.

Safety Data Sheets must be authored in accordance with the REACH and CLP Regulations.  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).


REACH also regulates when 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 authorisation by ECHA has been granted or refused;
  • Or if a restriction has been imposed by ECHA


How old can Safety Data Sheets be?

It is advisable to check with manufacturers every 12 months for any changes to safety data sheets in your inventory, as the newest, updated information on potential risks are necessary to complete your COSHH risk assessment.


Where are Safety Data Sheets kept in the workplace?

You can keep an inventory of all chemical products and Safety Data Sheets online. This is simply a list of all chemical products on site that are manufactured, imported or used by the company. This inventory can be as simple or complex as you like as long as some key information is included:

  • Chemical/Product name
  • Supplier/Manufacturer details
  • Identifier i.e. CAS Number


Can Safety Data Sheets be kept on a computer?

Yes! As today’s SDSs sheets for chemicals are extensive, it’s almost impossible to ensure that they are compliant with the regulations and the procedures you have onsite. With the help of EcoOnline's digital database - the largest database for Safety Data Sheets in Northern Europe, you can search and find hundreds of thousands of updated Safety Data Sheets.

Read all about the benefits of using EcoOnlines Chemical Manager for managing safety data sheets and chemical risk assessments here >



The Ultimate Guide to Safety Data Sheet Management

This safety data sheet management guide aims to improve SDS management in your organisation and improve the culture towards safer use, handling, storage and management of chemicals.

Read more

The Ultimate Guide to COSHH Management

This COSHH guide aims to improve chemical safety management in your organisation.

Read more

Safety Data Sheet Management Tips

We have put together our top then tips to ensuring you have a good Safety Data Sheet Management system in place.

read more

Get in Touch