The 7 Most Common Questions about Safety Data Sheets

By George Slaughter

1. What are safety data sheets?

Federal law requires that a chemical manufacturer, distributor, or importer provide Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for each hazardous chemical to downstream users. (SDSs were formerly known as Material Safety Data Sheets, or MSDSs.)

The SDS includes information such as the properties of each chemical; the physical, health, and environmental health hazards; protective measures; and safety precautions for handling, storing, and transporting the chemical.

The information contained in the SDS must be in English, although it may also be in other languages.

2. Is there a standard template for safety data sheets, and where would one get that?

See the OSHA web site at www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3514.html for a listing and description of each of the 16 required sections in an SDS.

OSHA also requires that SDS preparers provide specific minimum information as detailed in Appendix D of 29 CFR 1910.1200. See the OSHA web site at www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=standards&p_id=10099 for more information.

In addition to OSHA, applicable state agencies may have additional regulations and requirements.

3. If Company X purchases a particular chemical from a vendor, is Company X responsible for the safety data sheets?

Yes. In this case, Company X must contact the vendor or manufacturer to obtain an SDS.

4. Where are safety data sheets typically kept?

While there is no one way to keep SDSs, companies must ensure easy SDS access to comply with OSHA regulations. Company officials must decide how best to meet this standard.

If the employee’s work area includes the area where he can obtain the SDSs, then maintaining SDSs on a computer would be in compliance. If he can access the SDSs only out of the employee’s work areas, then the employer would be out of compliance.

5. Are safety data sheets required for non-hazardous chemicals?

No. Federal law does not require SDSs for non-hazardous chemicals. Such SDSs can be discarded.

6. Can safety data sheets serve as a substitute for a hazard communication plan?

No. SDSs are an important part of a hazard communication plan—along with such things as labeling of hazardous chemicals and training staff—but they are not a substitute.

7. Are safety data sheets limited to industrial plants?

No. In the interest of research safety, universities provide links to SDSs through their websites. To see an example, visit the Iowa State University Department of Chemistry’s Material Safety Data Sheets web page at avogadro.chem.iastate.edu/MSDS/MSDS_G.html.

About the Author

George Slaughter is a writer, editor, and content strategist. His web site is georgeslaughter.com.