GHS 101: Safety Data Sheets (SDS)

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Role of Safety Data Sheets in the Harmonized System

Safety Data Sheets are an essential component of the GHS and are intended to provide comprehensive information about a substance or mixture for use in workplace chemical management.

In the GHS, they serve the same function that the Material Safety Data Sheet or MSDS does in OSHA’s HazCom Standard.

They are used as a source of info about hazards, including environmental hazards, and to obtain advice on safety precautions.

The SDS is normally product related and not specific to workplace; nevertheless, the information on an SDS enables the employer to:

  1. Develop an active program of worker protection measures, including training, which is specific to the workplace.
  2. Consider measures necessary to protect the environment.

SDS also provides important source of information for other target audience in the GHS – so certain elements may be used for the transport of dangerous goods, emergency responders (including poison centres), and those involved in the professional use pesticides and consumers.

Criteria for Determining Whether an SDS Should be Produced

An SDS should be produced for substances and mixtures which meet the harmonized criteria for physical, health, or environmental hazards under the GHS and for all mixtures which contain ingredients that meet the criteria for carcinogenic, toxic to reproduction or specific target organ toxicity in concentrations exceeding the cut-off limits for SDS specified by the criteria for mixtures.

Competent authorities may also requires SDSs for mixtures not meeting the criteria for classification but containing hazardous ingredients in certain concentrations.

SDS Format

Information in the SDS should be presented using the following 16 headings in the order given below

1.     Identification

2.     Hazard(s) identification

3.     Composition/information on ingredients

4.     First-aid measures

5.     Fire-fighting measures

6.     Accidental release measures

7.     Handling and Storage

8.     Exposure controls/personal protection

9.     Physical and chemical properties

10.   Stability and reactivity

11.   Toxicological information

12.   Ecological information

13.   Disposal considerations

14.   Transport information

15.   Regulatory information

16.   Other information

SDS Content

SDSs should provide a clear description of the data used to identify the hazards. The minimum information for each section listed below should be included.

If specific information is not applicable or not available under a particular sub-heading, the SDS should clearly state this.

Some subheadings are national or regional in nature and SDSs should contain such information as is relevant for the area the SDSs are intended.

Annex 4 contains guidance on SDS preparation

Minimum Information for an SDS
GHS R3 Table  1.5.2

1. Identification of the substance or mixture and of the supplier

a)      GHS Product Identifier

b)      Other means of identification

c)       Recommended use of the chemical and restrictions on use

d)      Supplier’s details (including name, address, phone number etc.)

e)      Emergency phone number

2. Hazard identification

a)      GHS classification of the substance/mixture and any national or regional information

b)      GHS label elements, including precautionary statements. (Hazard symbols may be provided as a graphical reproduction of the symbols in the black and white or the name of the symbol e.g. “flame”, “skull and crossbones”);

c)       Other hazards which do not result in the classification (e.g. “dust explosion hazard”) or are not covered by the GHS.

3. Composition/information on ingredients


a)      Chemical identity;

b)      Common name, synonyms, etc.;

c)       CAS number and other unique identifiers

d)      Impurities and stabilizing additives which are themselves classified and which contribute to the classification of a substance.


The chemical identity and concentration or concentration ranges of all ingredients which are hazardous within the meaning of the GHS and are present above their cut-off levels.

NOTE: For information on ingredients, the competent authority rules for CBI take priority over the rules for product identification.

4. First aid measures

a)      Description of necessary measures, subdivided according to the different routes of exposure, i.e. inhalation, skin and eye contact and ingestion;

b)      Most important symptoms/effects, acute and delayed.

c)      Indication of immediate medical attention and special treatment needed, if necessary.

5. Fire-fighting measures

a)      Suitable (and unsuitable) extinguishing media.

b)      Specific hazards arising from the chemical (e.g. nature of any hazardous combustion products).

c)      Special protective equipment and precautions for fire-fighters.

6. Accidental release measures

a)      Personal precautions, protective equipment and emergency procedures.

b)      Environmental precautions.

c)      Methods and materials for containment and cleaning up.

7. Handling and storage

a)      Precautions for safe handling.

b)      Conditions for safe storage, including any incompatibilities.

8. Exposure controls/personal protection

a)      Control parameters e.g. occupational exposure limit values or biological limit values.

b)      Appropriate engineering controls.

c)      Individual protection measures, such as personal protective equipment.

9. Physical and chemical properties

a)      Appearance (physical state, color etc.);

b)      Odor;

c)      Odor threshold;

d)      pH;

e)      Melting point/freezing point;

f)       Initial boiling point and boiling range;

g)      Flash point;

h)      Evaporation rate;

i)       Flammability (solid, gas);

j)       Upper/lower flammability or explosive limits;

k)      Vapor pressure;

l)       Vapor density;

m)    Relative density;

n)      Solubility(ies);

o)      Partition coefficient: n-octanol/water;

p)      Auto-ignition temperature;

q)      Decomposition temperature;

r)       Viscosity.

10. Stability and reactivity

a)      Reactivity;

b)      Chemical stability;

c)      Possibility of hazardous reactions;

d)      Conditions to avoid (e.g. static discharge, shock or vibration);

e)      Incompatible materials;

f)       Hazardous decomposition products.

11. Toxicological information

Concise but complete and comprehensible description of the various toxicological (health) effects and the available data used to identify those effects, including:

a)      Information on the likely routes of exposure (inhalation, ingestion, skin and eye contact);

b)      Symptoms related to the physical, chemical  and toxicological characteristics;

c)      Delayed and immediate effects and also chronic effects from short and long term exposure;

d)      Numerical measures of toxicity (such as acute toxicity estimates).

12. Ecological information

a)      Ecotoxicity (aquatic and terrestrial, where available);

b)      Persistence and degradability;

c)      Bioaccumulative potential;

d)      Mobility in the soil;

e)      Other adverse effects.

13. Disposal information

Description of waste residues and information on the their safe handling and methods of disposal, including the disposal of any contaminated packaging.

14. Transport information

a)      UN number;

b)      UN proper shipping name:

c)      Transport hazard class(es);

d)      Packing group, if applicable

e)      Environmental hazards (e.g.: Marine pollutant (Yes/No));

f)       Transport in bulk (according to Annex II of MARPOL 73/78 and the IBC Code);

g)      Special precautions which a user needs to be aware of, or needs to comply with, in connection with the transport or conveyance within or outside their premises.

15. Regulatory information

Safety, health and environmental regulations specific for the product in question.

16. Other information including information on preparation and revision of the SDS

Fill in additional information as needed.

Guidance for Compiling a Safety Data Sheet

Cut off values/concentration limits for each health and environmental hazard class

Hazard class Cut-off value/concentration limit
Acute toxicity ≥  1.0%
Skin corrosion/Irritation ≥   1.0%
Serious eye damage/eye irritation ≥  1.0%
Respiratory/Skin sensitization ≥  0.1%
Germ cell mutagenicity (Category 1) ≥   0.1%
Germ cell mutagenicity (Category 2) ≥   1.0%
Carcinogenicity ≥  0.1%
Reproductive toxicity ≥  0.1%
Specific target organ toxicity (single exposure) ≥  1.0%
Specific target organ toxicity (repeated exposure) ≥  1.0%
Aspiration hazard (Category 1) ≥   10% of Category 1 ingredient(s) and kinematic viscosity  > 20.5mm 2/s at 40˚C
Aspiration hazard (Category 2) ≥   10% of Category 2 ingredient(s) and kinematic viscosity  > 14 mm 2/s at 40˚C
Hazardous to the aquatic environment ≥ 1.0%

There may be some cases when available hazard data warrants an SDS on basis other than cut off values or concentration limits.

And an SDS may be required for mixtures that are deemed acutely toxic or toxic to the aquatic environment in concentrations equal to or greater than 1%

Some competent authorities may choose not to regulate certain categories within a hazard class, in such cases, no SDS would be needed.

If an SDS is required for a substance or mixture, then the information required to be included in the SDS should in all cases be provided in accordance with GHS requirements.

Learn more about the GHS by clicking on the links below:

GHS Answer Center

10 GHS Facts in 60 Seconds GHS 101: An Overview GHS 101: History of the GHS

GHS 101: Classification GHS 101: Labels GHS 101: Safety Data Sheets

GHS 101: U.S. Adoption GHS 101: GHS Definitions 5 Great Questions on GHS

GHS Pictograms GHS Transport Pictograms

Access the UN’s GHS Third Revision by Clicking the Links Below:


Foreword and table of contents


Part 1:


Part 2:
Physical hazards


Part 3:
Health hazards


Part 4:
Environmental hazards


Annex 1:
Allocation of label elements


Annex 2:
Classification and labelling summary tables


Annex 3:
Codification of hazard statements, codification and use of precautionary statements and examples of precautionary pictograms


Annex 4:
Guidance on the preparation of Safety Data Sheets


Annex 5:
Consumer product labelling based on the likelihood of injury


Annex 6:
Comprehensibility testing methodology


Annex 7:
Examples of arrangements of the GHS label elements


Annex 8:
An example of classification in the Globally Harmonized Systems


Annex 9:
Guidance on hazards to the aquatic environment


Annex 10:
Guidance on transformation/dissolution of metals and metal compounds

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob Weeks April 24, 2013 at 12:07 pm

I have noticed that some of the major U.S. chemical companies have not included recommended use in Section 1 of their SDS for some of their products. Are there any situations in which a recommended use is not required in an SDS?

Thank you.


Dan Ciancio April 26, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Regarding SDSs, here in the US we have to remember that the HazCom 2012 compliant SDSs are not mandatory until June 1, 2015. Without seeing the documents in question, it is not certain whether they would comply with HazCom 2012 guidelines. It sounds like they wouldn’t, since OSHA clearly states that each required piece of information must be included and the safety data sheet, or some indication must be given as to why it was not relevant or available.

Here’s what HazCom 2012 Appendix D, which deals with SDSs says, “A safety data sheet (SDS) shall include the information specified in Table D.1 under the section number and heading indicated for sections 1-11 and 16. If no relevant information is found for any given subheading within a section, the SDS shall clearly indicate that no applicable information is available.”

OSHA does not list any situations where information for Section 1, subsection C would not be necessary – so I think we should expect that information required there will be added to the safety data sheets you’re seeing before the June 1, 2015 date. That said, between now and then, employers should expect things to get messy. We are seeing many “Frankenstein” styled SDSs these days, safety data sheets with some (not all) new HazCom 2012 elements, but the document is an 8 section or 12 section document, or the 16 sections are not in the right order. For many companies – it looks like the move to HazCom 2012 will be iterative.


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