There are thousands of different chemicals found in workplaces all across the world. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) classifies hundreds of these as hazardous.

From skin irritation to explosibility, there are many different risks involved with handling these chemicals. Still, for many employees across a range of industries, the interaction is inevitable. This is where safety data sheets come in.

These documents contain critical information that can keep workers safe as they use hazardous substances. Today, we’re sharing everything you need to know about them and why they’re so important.

What Role Do Safety Data Sheets Serve?

Before we share why they’re so important, let’s answer one basic question, first. What are safety data sheets?

Put simply, a safety data sheet (or SDS) is a document that contains critical information employees must know about potentially hazardous substances in the workplace. Until recently, they were known as Material Safety Data Sheets, or MSDS.

The data they contain includes:

  • The chemical’s inherent properties (toxicity level, flash point)
  • Protective measures that can mitigate exposure risks
  • The hazards that the chemical could pose (physical, health, and environmental)
  • Safety precautions to take when storing, handling, or transporting the chemical

Employees can reference their on-site SDS to know what type of personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to wear when interacting with a substance. They can also check the document to learn critical first aid measures or clean-up procedures to follow in the event of accidental exposure.

Who Prepares an SDS?

Any company that manufacturers or imports hazardous chemicals is responsible for ensuring that an official SDS of that chemical is created and made available. According to OSHA, all SDS documents should be in English. However, they may be translated into other languages as required.

How Are SDS Files Standardized?

To be an effective form of workplace safety, SDS files must be standardized across the board. Without a consistent and universally agreed-upon classification system in place, companies could disagree on the proper way to manage a chemical in the workplace.

For instance, one company may choose to store a substance in a certain way, while another opts to use a different technique. The discrepancies aren’t only confusing and difficult to manage. They could also be dangerous.

To that end, all SDS documents are standardized under a system known as the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling Chemicals, or GHS. The GHS system simplifies and streamlines the chemical classification process. It was developed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

While they will all follow the same format and contain the same information, manufacturers can choose which parts of the SDS they use. For instance, most SDS documents will contain special codes known as GHS Hazard codes, or H-codes. They will also contain specific hazard statements.

One manufacturer may include both H-codes and hazard statements on their SDS. Another may choose to omit the H-codes and only include the hazard statement. If that’s the case, then employers can easily identify the required H-code by referencing the statement.

Key Pictograms to Know

On any given SDS, you may find a number of different pictograms. These are visual representations of the hazards that a particular chemical could cause. The three main ones include:

  • Health Hazard (used for carcinogens, mutagens, and chemicals with known toxicities)
  • Exclamation Mark (used for chemicals that could irritate skin, eyes, respiratory tracts, or the ozone layer)
  • Flame (use for chemicals that could cause a fire, including self-heating and self-reactive elements)

Where Will You Find an SDS?

Official OSHA regulations mandate that any work environment that contains a known hazardous substance must have the SDS associated with that substance on site. This means they can’t be locked away in a filing cabinet or stored in some other inaccessible location.

While some facilities are required to keep hard copies of all SDS files in-house, others are permitted to train employees on how to access them online. Especially for companies the deal with a large realm of revolving chemicals, electronic SDS files can be more convenient and less cumbersome to manage. With digital tools platforms KHA, employees can enjoy on-demand access to SDS files from any connected device.

This includes laboratories, warehouses, shops, and other similar facilities. The documents should be easily accessible and readily available to all employees, regardless of the shift that they work. Moreover, instructors must provide thorough training on the safe handling of each chemical, and should keep signed training records as evidence of compliance.

Wondering if one universal SDS would be sufficient to cover a few chemicals with similar properties? The answer is a resounding “no”. OSHA requires employers to obtain an individual SDS for every chemical.

What Are My Employee Rights?

Do you have a job that requires any type of exposure to a hazardous chemical? If so, then your employee must make sure that you know exactly how to use and access the SDS files located at your workplace. You should also be well-trained on how to handle those chemicals.

As an employee, it’s important to understand that you should be able to access an SDS at any time. If you make a request to see one, then your employer is obligated to share that document with you.

Safety Data Sheets Are Critical Workplace Resources

If your job requires you to handle dangerous and potentially hazardous chemicals, then it’s imperative to know what you’re working with. Now that we’ve covered the importance of safety data sheets, do you know if your workplace has them on file?

If you’re unsure, then be sure to check with your employer. You should always know your rights and responsibilities, especially when your health and safety are involved.

Looking for more business and lifestyle news you can trust? We have plenty of tips and tricks on our blog, so check back often for more informative guides!

Also Read: 5 Simple Safety Data Sheet Management Ideas