How do I read and understand a GHS Safety Data Sheet (SDS)?

When working with chemicals or other hazardous substances it is important to understand the dangers so that proper precautions can be taken. For facilities following the Globally Harmonized System (GHS), this starts with the GHS label. The label will include a variety of different types of information to help identify the chemical, present the various risks, and help readers understand how to stay safe. When something does go wrong, or when someone wants to get more information about the chemical or substance, they should read the safety data sheet (SDS).

What is an SDS?

A safety data sheet is an informational document that is created to help understand the hazards associated with a given chemical. Every hazardous chemical in a facility needs to have its own SDS so that employees, management, and safety professionals will be able to get the information they need, when they need it.

Creating an SDS

OSHA requires that all hazardous chemicals in a facility have an SDS in place within the facility. The SDS must be located in a place that is easy to access, and employees need to know where they should go when they need an SDS. Fortunately, safety data sheets are a standard item and are always the same for a given chemical. This means facilities can download an SDS from the internet and print it out as needed. This helps make it much easier for facilities to follow the SDS standards.

Reading an SDS

Safety data sheets are broken up into four sections, each containing important information:

  • Chemical Product and Supplier Identification – This section includes general information about the chemical in question, and its supplier. Things like the product code and chemical name should be listed here along with emergency contact information, and information about the uses of the chemical.
  • Hazards Identification – The hazards identification section will identify the various risks associated with the material. This should list what situations will cause the chemical to become hazardous, and guidelines on how to safely use it.
  • Composition of Ingredients – Section three of an SDS will list the chemical composition of the chemical or material. This can be especially important when working with a chemical that is made by compounding multiple different substances.
  • Physical and Chemical Properties – Information related to the physical and chemical properties of a chemical or material are listed here. This should include a description of the substance, its density, and any other information that can be helpful in identifying it.

Understanding the sections of an SDS will make it a much more valuable document. Training employees on how to read SDSs is critical because they will need to reference it should a spill or other event take place. Learning how to read an SDS before a hazard is present will allow the team to respond appropriately.


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