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What is an SDS?

The generic explanation is that an SDS is an MSDS.

In other words, a safety data sheet and a material safety data sheet are the same thing — documents that accompany hazardous chemicals and substances and outline the dangers, composition, safe handling, and disposal of said chemicals and substances.

That said, an SDS also refers to a safety data sheet that is constructed and formatted to conform to the Globally Harmonized System (GHS), which mandates SDS’s have 16 standardized sections arranged in a strict order. With adoption of GHS happening around the world, this definition of SDS is what most people will be implying when talking about SDS.

The transition from old MSDS formats to the new GHS styled SDS is a big part of GHS adoption and there are three major challenges organizations that traffic in SDSs must face: SDS authoring, SDS management and SDS training. Download our GHS Adoption Timeline Checklist for a roadmap to compliance.

SDS Authoring

MSDSonline can author new SDSs or update existing ones, translate new or updated SDSs, and perform a comprehensive SDS inventory review. Our trained and certified professionals use the best available authoring technology to ensure your safety documents meet the most stringent requirements.

Authoring a safety data sheet to comply with GHS, ANSI, REACH, or any one of the hundreds of other local, federal and global regulations requires precision and expertise. Every SDS we author undergoes a thorough review process to ensure 100% accuracy and compliance. Let our experts take care of the SDSs while you stay focused on your core business.

SDS Management

Managing SDSs in countries undergoing GHS adoption can be a challenge. For instance, in the United States, OSHA’s revision of the Hazard Communication Standard will result in major safety data sheet churn. During the transition period, most companies can expect 100% turnover of their active SDS library.

Electronoic management of SDSs can help mitigate the impact this churn has on your company. The key to compliance is starting with a complete and accurate chemical inventory that includes an SDS for every chemical in use at your facility. Additional benefits to electronic SDS management can include enhanced chemical management and environmental and regulatory reporting tools.

SDS Training

SDSs that conform to GHS guidelines may look very different than the safety data sheets your employees are used to seeing. GHS styled SDSs contain new standardized elements in section 2 that are also found on GHS formatted labels. These elements include: signal words, hazard statements, pictograms and precautionary statements.

A key component of OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard is training employees on where to find and how to read SDSs in your workplace. In the U.S., even employees already trained on HCS will need additional training on changes to SDS under GHS. MSDSonline has a suite of on-demand training solutions that can help you ensure your staff is up-to-date and in compliance when it comes to workplace training.

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Understanding the Differences

A safety data sheet or SDS is a document that accompanies a hazardous chemical and provides detailed information for the safe handling, use, storage and disposal of said chemical. SDSs are created by the chemical manufacturer, distributor or importer, along with safety labels, and provided to downstream users of the hazardous chemical.

For many decades, in the United States and Canada particularly, such documents were called material safety data sheets or MSDSs – those days are ending. MSDSs are now being called SDSs all over the world thanks in large part to the global adoption of a new hazard communication system developed by the United Nations.

Called the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) the new system is designed to knit together the world’s hazard communication standards into one coherent system. For instance, OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) and Health Canada’s Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) are being aligned with GHS.

The two major tenets of GHS are the standardization of chemical classification and the standardization of safety labels and safety data sheets. For most users of hazardous chemicals, the most obvious changes will be to labels and SDSs. For instance, SDSs under GHS are formatted into 16 sections with a strict ordering of the sections.

Differences between an MSDS, an SDS and an SDS that is GHS compliant

There is no difference between an MSDS and an SDS, both are generic terms for safety data sheets. A GHS compliant safety data sheet is an SDS but not an MSDS.

Did you get that?

An SDS can be an MSDS, but an MSDS is not an SDS. And calling an SDS does not make it GHS compliant. In order for an SDS to be GHS compliant, it must have 16 sections in the proper order with the relevant information for each section. A GHS compliant SDS is similar to the ANSI Z400.1 MSDS with a couple of key differences.

You can learn more about GHS compliant SDSs by visiting the GHS Answer Center.

To further complicate the issue, a GHS compliant SDS is not necessarily compliant with all local, state, national or global regulations under which your business may operate. Luckily there’s help. MSDSonline helps businesses of all sizes improve the management of chemical products and safety data sheets which today, are still largely underserved by paper-based SDS management systems and processes.

Prior to the widespread use of the Internet, safety professionals managed MSDSs using three‐ring binders. Today, SDS management via paper‐based binders is costly, cumbersome, and often leads to noncompliance with regulations like OSHA’s HCS. As a result, HCS violations is one of the most frequently cited OSHA violations, costing businesses millions in penalties, fines and litigation expenses.

Our Solution

MSDSonline has developed revolutionary EH&S compliance management solutions that are available on-demand via the cloud. We offer online SDS access, management and employee Right-to-Know compliance solutions. Our industry leading online database of SDSs contains millions of indexed, manufacturer-orginial SDS documents. Unlike competitors, our database is dynamic with up to 10,000 new and/or updated safety data sheets added each week.

We combine access to our database with easy-to-use MSDS deployment and inventory management tools. This results in more cost-effective compliance with HCS, Canada’s Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) requirements, the European Commission’s REACH regulation, as well as the more recently adopted elements of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).

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