Safety Data Sheets – What Are They? Why Do You Need Them?

Written by Daniel Aday, CompOne Administrators Safety & Loss Prevention Specialist

Safety Data Sheets, also known as “SDS” or “MSDS” (material safety data sheets, formerly), are an encompassing document on a single product, formula, chemical or material that describe the product’s properties to a user. This includes the environmental, health and physical effects it may impact if exposed, along with proper handling, storage and maintenance of that product. Essentially, an SDS is the job application of the product and you’re the recruiter seeing if you would hire it. Although often overlooked, SDSs are incredibly important to understand in terms of your employees’ safety and ensuring you are in compliance with local and federal rules and regulations.

So, what do SDSs actually contain? All SDSs are required to contain 16 sections that break down almost every aspect of the product. The sections are: Identification, Hazards, Composition (ingredients), First Aid Measures, Firefighting Measures, Accidental Release Measures, Handling and Storage, Exposure Control (PPE), Physical and Chemical Properties, Stability and Reactivity, Toxicological Information, Ecological Information, Disposal Considerations, Transport Information, Regulatory Information and Other Information. These sections were determined by the Globally Harmonized Systems of Classifications and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) and are to be used all over the world for a universal means of identifying hazards. If you have any questions on a chemical or product, you can reference these sheets, which is why it is so important to have them available before you need them!

For example, if you have an employee who may be having an allergic reaction to something, you may easily reference the SDS and see the list of ingredients, to determine if any of them are of concern. Another reason is to give you information on how to properly store cleaners, such as storing vinegar and bleach in separate cabinets.
In addition to these reasons for having SDSs available, it is an OSHA (and MIOSHA) requirement! Whether you are in Construction or General Industry, OSHA’s Hazard Communication regulations require you to have SDSs for hazardous chemicals in your workplace AND have them in an organized, systematic and consistent manner AND you must train your employees on how to find the SDSs. If failure to do any of these laws is found by a MIOSHA or OSHA inspector, they may issue fines that will set you back thousands of dollars, per violation. Depending on your location, you may also need to have SDSs available for your local fire department. In the event of a fire at your location, the fire department needs to know if you have anything that may prolong a fire or create an additional hazard.

So, where should you start? While it may be tempting to just go grab an SDS binder and throw in every single SDS of each and every chemical you have on site, that plan may be destined for failure. You already should have SDSs made available within five days of receipt of a new chemical and post them for 10 days. Technically you do not need an SDS for household chemicals, if used within the same manner that a consumer would use them (i.e. same duration and frequency). However, if they are used on a more frequent basis, then you are required to have them. It is best to minimize the chemicals you have onsite, create a hazardous communication procedure and determine what chemicals are both efficient and safe to use. Once this list is established, using an online or shared folder that all employees have access to is a great means of storing all your SDSs. This way, you always have access to the chemicals anywhere, at any time. Lastly, continually ensure that your SDSs are updated every three years. Doing all of this is a great way to ensure you’re within compliance and your employees are safe!

If you are interested in finding out more information on SDSs and safety, please contact me at 734-309-3456 or email me at

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