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What is an SDS

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What is an SDS?

A Safety Data Sheet (SDS) is a document produced in alignment with the UN’s Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) that the manufacturer, importer, or distributor of a chemical product is required to provide to downstream users. An SDS needs to have a specific 16-section format (see below), and the process of creating a properly formatted SDS is known as SDS authoring.

The purpose of an SDS is to ensure that all workers who handle chemicals have the hazard information they need to safely use, handle and store them.

For a quick SDS overview, watch our “What is an SDS Video.”

For more details about which chemicals require an SDS, please consult our handy guide “Does this Product Require a Safety Data Sheet.”

SDS Overview

SDS Management

Electronic SDS Management

GHS Labels

Applicable Regulations

The GHS is not in itself a regulation or legal obligation, but can become one when an individual regulatory authority issues a rulemaking to align its own hazard communication regulations with a specific edition of the GHS, also known as the “purple book.” For more information, check out our GHS Answer Center.


In the US, SDSs are regulated under OSHA’s HazCom Standard, which was aligned with Revision 3 of the GHS in 2012. This GHS-aligned HazCom Standard is often referred to as HazCom 2012. Other regulatory agencies and government authorities have also aligned with GHS. In Canada, SDSs and other aspects of HazCom are regulated by Health Canada under the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), which was aligned with Revision 5 of the GHS. This WHMIS update is often referred to as WHMIS 2015. Check out our WHMIS page for more information.


In Australia, the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations developed by Safe Work Authority, have been aligned with Revision 3 of the GHS, and are enforceable through state and territorial adoptions of the WHS regulations.

Sections of an SDS

The original intent of the GHS was to bring some consistency and coherency to the hazard information available to workers. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs), the original versions of documents containing chemical hazard information prior to GHS, had as many formats as the imaginations of chemical suppliers would allow, leading to confusion and lost time during situations when workers most needed to access the information.


Regulatory authorities, such as OSHA, aligned with the GHS structure for SDSs which prescribes a specific 16-section format. Sections 1 through 8 of the SDS contain the more critical information to have during times of emergency, including manufacturer and emergency response contact information, hazard details, chemical composition, safe handling practices and emergency control measures such as fire-fighting.


Sections 9 through 11 and 16 contain other technical information, including physical and chemical properties, stability and reactivity information, and exposure control information. Sections 12 through 15 contain information on environmental impacts, disposal considerations, transport information, and regulatory information. In the US, OSHA has no regulatory authority over the content within these sections, since they address areas outside of its jurisdiction, but the Agency still requires chemical manufacturers to include the section numbers and headings to maintain consistency with the strictly ordered GHS SDS format.


The Right SDS from the Right Place

Whether managing your SDS library electronically or by paper, it’s important to emphasize that OSHA requires you to have the manufacturer-specific versions of SDSs that correspond to the actual chemical products in use at your workplace. Therefore, if your SDS library contains an SDS for acetone that is produced by a different manufacturer than the one who actually produces the acetone in use at your workplace, this is not compliant. It’s important that you’re providing the right SDS for the right product and that your employees are going to the right place for quick, right-to-know access to your company-specific library of SDSs.

Right-to-Know (RTK) SDS Access

Of course, SDSs cannot have the intended benefits for employees if employees can’t access them. Obstacles to accessing SDSs can also cause potentially dangerous delays when hazard information on the SDSs is needed for emergency response purposes. That’s why the HazCom Standard and analogous regulations require employers to make SDSs available to their workers during their workshifts.


The key here is that there can’t be any barriers to access. For example, you can’t keep your SDSs in a supervisor’s office that is locked and inaccessible to employees while they are on shift.

Electronic SDS Management and RTK Access

OSHA has long allowed use of electronic systems for SDS management and employee right-to-know access. However, in order for your electronic system to be considered compliant, you must be able to print hard copies of SDSs upon request, your employees must have consistent access to the system and your corresponding inventory-specific library of SDSs, and you must have a backup system or process in place for instances when your primary method may be inaccessible due to foreseeable interruptions, such as power outages, as well as unforeseeable interruptions, such as catastrophic emergencies like earthquakes. Furthermore, your employees must be trained on your primary and back-up systems and processes.

The following is an important point to emphasize when it comes to electronic, online management of SDSs: OSHA says in its July 2015 HazCom Enforcement Directive that it is not compliant to require employees to simply perform internet searches for SDSs. Instead, it says you may contract with an SDS service provider or provide the SDSs on your own website. This is an important point to emphasize because too often we hear of companies having employees simply go out and perform internet searches for SDSs, using whatever they find at their own discretion as their source of safety information for the hazardous chemicals they’re using. These companies are likely not aware that this is not considered compliant nor that it poses a real safety risk to their employees.


Your employees should not have to guess whether or not they’re pulling up the correct SDS for a hazardous chemical product in your inventory. They should have a reliable, consistent source for accessing safety data sheets and the SDS library should contain documents that correspond with the actual manufacturer versions of products in your company-specific inventory.


If you’re not sure whether what you’re doing for SDS management and right-to-know access is compliant, look no further ― VelocityEHS is here to help! Our award-winning SDS management system, part of our Safety Solution, deployment and employee right-to-know access is a truly compliant, easy to manage system. Contact our experts today to request a demo and to find out how we can help you meet your SDS management and other related HazCom compliance requirements.

VelocityEHS is home to the industry-leading online library of safety data sheets, or SDSs (formerly known as material safety data sheets, or MSDSs). Our database includes millions of safety sheets with the information you need to keep your business or organization safe from dangerous chemicals such as methanol, acetone, hydrochloric acid, and millions of other hazardous substances.


Browse our massive library of SDS resources by searching in the field above. However, to gain full access, you are required to create an account.

OSHA’s HazCom Standard and other safety regulations around the world require employers to maintain a safety data sheet (SDS) for every hazardous chemical in their inventory. Employers must also ensure that employees have right-to-know access—without barriers—to those SDS documents in their work areas, during their work shifts. An electronic system to manage SDSs is an efficient and effective way to provide workers with the critical chemical safety information they need while satisfying regulatory requirements.

Simple SDS Management with VelocityEHS Solutions

Our award-winning Chemical Management solutions make it easy to electronically maintain your SDS library and manage your chemical inventory. You get access to our industry-leading SDS database containing millions of documents, and built-in SDS auto-update functionality to help you ensure you have the latest GHS-aligned SDSs. The VelocityEHS platform is easy to use, requires no software to install or maintain, and allows your employees to quickly access SDSs across locations.

Compliant SDS Management Solution

Our system meets electronic SDS management requirements provided by authorities like OSHA, so you can be sure you’re protecting your employees and your business. For example, VelocityEHS provides you with multiple options for meeting electronic library backup requirements, including options to save and deploy your library via electronic storage media such as flash drives or CD-ROMs, or to create a backup library on your desktop or a mobile device, assuring you have many ways to assure compliance with SDS library back up requirements. VelocityEHS Chemical Management also provides the option to print copies of SDSs upon request. And our Emergency Response Services provide you with access to a live hotline, staffed by experts 24/7 who can provide SDS and chemical exposure support to employees in more than 200 languages.

Mobile SDS Access—Online or Offline

VelocityEHS Chemical Management is mobile optimized, and your account syncs directly to the SDS / Chemical Management mobile app, which allows you and your employees to view SDSs and manage chemical inventory information from any mobile device, whenever and wherever you need to—whether online or offline. With VelocityEHS mobile functionality, even workers in the field or in locations without internet access have your inventory-specific chemical safety information at their fingertips, streamlining RTK access and reducing risk.

Is Electronic SDS Management Permitted?

Yes, OSHA has consistently maintained that employers may use electronic systems to provide required Right-to-Know (RTK) access to SDSs. Options for online electronic management and employee RTK access include using a company website or intranet, or contracting with an off-site, web-based software service provider.

Electronic SDS access is a great solution for the challenges of the modern workplace, including multi-employer worksites at which host employers would need to make SDSs available to temporary and contracted workers in addition to their own employees. Employers who go this route just need to make sure they’re doing it right.

No Internet Searches Allowed

It’s very important to make sure you’re providing access to the specific SDSs for your chemical products from your specific product suppliers, and that you’re doing so via a formal system and not simply using a popular search engine such as Google®, whereby you’re sending employees out to the internet to try and view and obtain SDSs.

Doing so is problematic for many reasons and is not considered a compliant option for online SDS management and employee RTK access. This also means you cannot simply send employees out to use a general “find an SDS” search tool provided by a third party. OSHA says you must have a curated library of SDSs that match your specific inventory of chemicals.

Whether you choose to manage your SDS documents using your own website or that of an online SDS management service provider, you must ensure your system meets OSHA’s electronic online SDS management compliance criteria.

VelocityEHS pioneered online safety data sheet management decades ago with its Chemical Management capabilities and continues to provide employers like you with the industry’s #1, reliable, compliant solution for your SDS and chemical inventory management needs.

Online SDS Management Compliance Criteria

Electronic access systems for SDSs are a great way to ensure that your SDSs are available to your workforce quickly and easily, as long as you are meeting the following compliance criteria:

  • You are not relying on internet searches, including searches on popular search engines like Google®, for employees to retrieve SDSs
  • You are making the SDS documents available through your own website/intranet or have contracted with a third-party vendor to use an SDS management system, such as VelocityEHS’ Chemical Management Capabilities
  • All your covered employees have adequate access to the electronic system, without restrictions
  • You have a backup system or process in place for instances when the primary electronic system may be inaccessible due to potential foreseeable issues such as power outages, as well as emergencies like natural disasters. VelocityEHS Chemical Management includes multiple backup options, making it easy to comply
  • You are able train employees on how to access SDSs, through both the primary and backup systems
  • You are able to provide hard copies of your SDSs to employees or OSHA representatives upon request, as well as to first responders and medical personnel in cases of emergency (NOTE: VelocityEHS offers around-the-clock access to critical chemical safety information online, offline and through our globally recognized Emergency Response Services hotline)

And remember, you need to describe your methods of providing SDS access in your Written HazCom plan, including both your primary and backup systems, and you need to describe how you provide your SDSs to any temporary or contract workers.

The First Line of Defense in Workplace Chemical Safety

Chemical container labels are the most direct, most immediate means of communicating chemical hazards to the workers who use them. Whether you’re a manufacturer, importer, distributor, or end-user of hazardous chemicals, it’s absolutely critical that you fully understand your GHS labeling requirements to not only ensure compliance with applicable regulations but to safeguard your employees and your workplace.

Shipped/Supplier Labels vs. Workplace/Secondary Labels

There are two types of GHS labels; shipped container labels sometimes referred to as supplier labels, and workplace container labels otherwise known as secondary labels.

Shipped/Supplier Labels

If you are a supplier (manufacturer, distributor or importer) who ships hazardous chemicals to downstream customers, you need to create shipped labels and affix them to the immediate containers of those chemicals prior to being transported. In general, there are six label elements that all chemical suppliers must include on GHS shipped container labels. These six elements are:

  1. Supplier Identification
  2. Product Identification
  3. Signal Word
  4. Hazard Statements
  5. Hazard Pictograms
  6. Precautionary Statements

You may also be required to include supplemental information on the shipped/supplier label, and may need to furnish labels in specific languages or in multiple languages. For example, Canada’s WHMIS and Hazardous Products Regulations (HPR) require suppliers to provide labels in both English and French translations. Be sure to consult applicable regulations (OSHA HazCom, WHMIS, EU CLP, etc.) to determine what GHS elements and other hazard information must be present on your shipped/supplier container labels.

Workplace/ Secondary Container Labels

Secondary/workplace containers are defined as any containers used to transfer hazardous chemicals from their original shipped/supplier container for subsequent use in the workplace. GHS requirements for the secondary/workplace container labels are less prescriptive than those for shipped container labels, and specific requirements may differ substantially from country to country.

For example, US OSHA’s HazCom Standard (HazCom 2012) states that workplace/secondary labels must either replicate the information on the shipped container label or contain some combination of GHS label elements that effectively provides employees with the specific information regarding the physical and health hazards of hazardous chemicals in the workplace.

Smart Labeling Solutions

VelocityEHS Chemical Management gives you the ability easily design and print GHS chemical container labels—helping you to simplify compliance and ensure your workers have immediate access to clear, accurate chemical hazard and safety information. Our intuitive labeling interface lets you select the desired label elements directly from the corresponding product SDS, then instantly generate GHS labels in multiple pre-built and custom label formats to accommodate the full range of container sizes and types throughout your workplace.

VelocityEHS Chemical Management features seamless integration with the leading chemical container labeling solution providers including AveryBrady and Graphic Products, giving you the most versatile and user-friendly container labeling capabilities available. Once you’ve designed and formatted your container labels, you can instantly print them directly within your VelocityEHS Chemical Management account, saving you time and money.

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