What Are Chemical Data Sheets?

andrea rowe

Andrea Rowe

| August 31 2019

What Are Chemical Safety Data Sheets?

Blog Post | Reading Time: 9 Mins

A Chemical Safety Data Sheet (SDS) is a document that tells you everything you need to know about a chemical.

You have a legal requirement to have them if your workplace handles, stores or transports hazardous chemicals. An SDS is particularly helpful when handling chemicals that behave in unpredictable ways or have hidden dangers.

One of our clients has a laboratory and ordered a particularly volatile chemical from one of their suppliers.

Rather than use the original Chemical Safety Data Sheet (SDS) the supplier provided, they downloaded a generic one and used that for their risk assessment.

The generic SDS didn't include all the chemical dangers that were in the original SDS.

When they mixed this chemical with another, there was an explosion.

The lab tech had to be hospitalised and inhaled some toxic fumes.

Luckily, this was a small-scale explosion as they were dealing with small quantities, however this event serves as a great reminder of the importance of Chemical Safety Data Sheets.




What Is A Chemical Safety Data Sheet?

A Chemical Safety Data Sheet (SDS) is a document that tells you everything you need to know about a chemical.

A Safety Data Sheet includes:

  • The chemical classification details.
  • Safe storage and handling guidance.
  • Emergency and first aid information.

Chemicals that are classified as ‘hazardous chemicals’ according to the safety laws must have an SDS.


What is the Global Harmonise System (GHS)?

GHS is the classification criteria for hazardous chemicals. GHS, developed by the United Nations, standardises the chemical classification and labelling internationally.

Before GHS, chemicals imported into Australia had various classification and labelling depending where they were manufactured. The key feature of GHS labels is the hazardous chemical pictograms (red diamond with black symbol). Click here to get our Free GHS Pictorials Pocket Card in Facebook Messenger (you need to be signed in to Facebook)


How Does A Chemical Safety Data Sheet Help?

An SDS helps in two main ways:

1. When Handling Hazardous Chemicals

An SDS helps when you’re handing hazardous chemicals. Particularly when you need to know what Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) you need.

For example, before you reach for a dangerous chemical, you might instinctively reach for a rubber glove.

That is normally a good idea however what if the chemical you’re handling melts latex?

Some do.

In this case, the SDS will tell you the exact type of glove you need to use.



2. When handling chemicals that behave in unpredictable ways or have hidden dangers

Different chemicals are harmful in different ways and it’s not always obvious how they might harm you.

You can’t tell from the look of a chemical if it can hurt your eyes, skin or if it’s poisonous.

Take rubber for example.

When rubber is used in a tyre is not hazardous a chemical. But rubber dust is harmful to inhale if you burn it or grind it up.

A stone benchtop isn’t harmful, but the dust can be deadly if you cut it up and aren’t properly protected.


Why Do You Need Safety Data Sheets?

There are two main reasons you need Safety Data Sheets:

1. You have a legal requirement

If your workplaces handles, stores or transports hazardous chemicals, you need to have an SDS for every hazardous chemical at your business.

The SDS needs to be available to workers that may be exposed to the chemical, so your workers should be informed where the SDS are located. You can use signage to help people find them.

If your workplace manufactures, imports or supplies chemicals, you must prepare an SDS for each chemical. You also need to provide the current SDS to your customer.

Your workers and first aid officers should read the Safety Data Sheets for chemicals in their work area.


2. They keep people safe.

When you have an SDS, you know the hazardous chemical classification. This lets you know whether the substance is hazardous to health or has dangerous physical properties.

For example, an SDS will tell you if a chemical is flammable or corrosive.

The SDS also describes storage and handling requirements. This is important because only some of these details are on the product label.


What Gets Classified As A Hazardous Chemical?

For a chemical to be classified as a ‘hazardous chemical’ it could be hazardous to health or have dangerous physical properties.

What about non hazardous chemicals?

The manufacturer, importer and supplier are not legally required to prepare an SDS for chemicals that are not hazardous, and your workplace doesn’t need to obtain the SDS for these.

Sometimes there’s an SDS available for non-hazardous chemicals. This can be helpful to confirm if the chemical has any special storage or handling precautions.


Where do you get an SDS?

The most common place you’ll get a Chemical Safety Data Sheet is your supplier of the chemical.

There’s an important distinction to make here....

A business is considered a supplier when their primary business is supplying chemicals.

If you buy a chemical from a retailer (e.g. Bunnings or a service station), they don’t have an obligation to provide you with the Chemical Safety Data Sheet.

When you do purchase hazardous chemicals from a supplier, it’s a legal requirement for them to give you the SDS.

The SDS could be supplied:

  • In the form of a hardcopy print-out.
  • Via email.
  • By referring you to their website.

Any of these methods are perfectly acceptable but there’s a few things to consider with electronic copies.


Paper or Electronic Safety Data Sheets

It’s acceptable to keep the SDS electronically instead of hard copy, and convenient if you have a lot of chemicals.


It’s important that exposed workers have quick access to the SDS.

For example, if something gets spilled on your worker’s skin, and someone needs to Google the chemical to find the SDS, this isn’t considered ‘easily accessible’.

You also need to provide a means of access to the SDS if there’s a power failure so it’s good practice to have copies of your electronic Safety Data Sheets on your servers rather than relying on external links to supplier websites. 

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Buying Chemicals From A Retailer

Retailers don’t have an obligation to provide you with a Safety Data Sheet with chemicals you buy from them.

So, if you buy a chemical from Bunnings or a service station you won’t be given an SDS.

But you still need one….

If you buy chemicals from a retailer and take it to your workplace you need to have the data sheet. You’ll need to source it yourself.

You’ll find that some retailers like Bunnings and Coles make them accessible on their website. Don’t expect this from every retailer though.


Can I just download one from a database?

Some companies like Chemwatch use a generic version.

These can be helpful as an additional resources but you must have the original supplier version (not the altered version) and use this risk assessments.


Do we only need an SDS for liquids?
Flammable Sign Red

When most people think of chemicals they think of liquids however Hazardous chemicals can be solids, liquids or gasses.

Take Asbestos.

Asbestos is extremely dangerous when you cut it but completely harmless if you touch it.

Although it’s not a liquid it’s still classified as a hazardous chemical.


What Does A Chemical Safety Data Sheet Look Like?

It is often recognised by the title SAFETY DATA SHEET.

You’ll normally find the GHS pictograms in section two however the diamonds are optional, and not always on the SDS.

The format and font for an SDS is not prescribed, so this varies. An SDS may be as short as one page, or more than 20 pages long.

An SDS contains 16 sections but the most important features are:

  • Chemical classification.
  • Storage.
  • Handling.
  • Hazards details.
  • First aid.
  • Firefighting measures.


Is A Chemical Safety Data Sheet And A Material Data Safety Sheet The Same Thing?

Yes, basically.

A Safety Data Sheet (SDS) is the term used under the Globally Harmonised System (GHS) for the classification and labelling of chemicals.

The SDS includes classification under the GHS.

An MSDS was the term used under the previous safety laws and classified the chemical under different criteria (NOHSC).


What If One Of Your Workers Gets Exposed To A Hazardous Chemical?

Chemical Safety Data Sheets contain emergency information that should be considered in the case of an emergency.

However it’s not always practical to find an SDS in the case of an emergency.

One of our clients have over 2000 chemicals. To stop and try and find an SDS in an emergency would cost a lot of time.

If one of your workers get exposed to a hazardous chemical and it’s an immediate emergency, don’t hesitate to call OOO rather than hunting around for the SDS.

If it’s not an immediate emergency, call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26.

The immediate treatment for most chemical exposure is ‘wash off with water’. However, in some cases, water is not the correct remedy because some chemicals should not get wet.

Read the SDS before the emergency. Not during.

The first aiders at your business should already be familiar with all the chemicals at your business.

They shouldn't be learning about a chemical for the first time after an incident.



What Now?

Now you know what the Safety Data sheet is all about, it's time for quick review to make sure you’re covered.

  1. Do an audit of your chemicals and Safety Data Sheets. If you’re missing any, contact your supplier of the chemical and ask for it.
  2. Check that your first aiders have read the Safety Data Sheets and know where they’re located. If it’s not obvious enough, you might want to consider using some signage to make it crystal clear.

Stay safe!


Need help or advice creating or locating Chemical Safety Data Sheets in your business? Take away the guesswork and talk to one of our expert Safety Consultants. Call +61 (03) 8544 4300 or enquire online

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