A Look Into Safety Data Sheets: SDS vs. MSDS

safety data sheet

What is the Difference Between MSDS and SDS?

Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are vital tools in promoting workplace safety. These documents provide essential information about hazardous chemicals, guiding users on proper handling, storage, and emergency response. Understanding the differences between MSDS and SDS is critical for compliance and safety.

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) were the traditional format for providing chemical information, while the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) are now more commonly used, following the Global Harmonization System (GHS) guidelines. Both aim to protect workers and the environment from potential hazards.

The need for standardized chemical information became evident with the rise of industrialization. OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HazCom) played a pivotal role in establishing SDS as a global norm.

MSDS: What Is It?

A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) is a crucial document that provides essential information about hazardous chemicals. It offers comprehensive details on the chemical's properties, potential hazards, safe handling procedures, and emergency response measures. MSDS plays a pivotal role in ensuring workplace safety and compliance with regulations. Workers and employers rely on these sheets to understand the risks associated with chemicals and take necessary precautions. The MSDS format follows a standardized structure, facilitating easy access to critical information. Proper knowledge and utilization of MSDS contribute significantly to preventing accidents and protecting both individuals and the environment.

SDS: What Is It?

A Safety Data Sheet (SDS) is a vital document that provides comprehensive information about hazardous chemicals. It is designed to ensure the safe handling, use, storage, and disposal of potentially dangerous substances. SDS serves as a critical resource for employees, employers, and emergency responders, offering valuable insights into the hazards associated with the chemical product.

GHS Label Requirements

The SDS follows GHS guidelines. GHS establishes a uniform approach to classifying chemicals based on their physical, health, and environmental hazards. The SDS includes GHS pictograms, signal words, hazard statements, and precautionary statements, aiding in better understanding and hazard communication.

Requirements for the Safety Data Sheet (SDS)

The SDS format must adhere to specific regulatory requirements. It contains 16 sections:

  • Identification: The Identification section provides crucial details about the chemical product, including its name, intended use, and relevant contact information of the manufacturer or supplier. This information ensures accurate identification of the substance and facilitates effective communication in case of emergencies.
  • Hazard Identification: In this section, the SDS outlines the potential hazards associated with the chemical. It includes hazard classification, GHS hazard pictograms, signal words, and hazard statements. Understanding these hazards is essential for implementing appropriate safety measures.
  • Composition Information: This part discloses the chemical composition of the product, listing its hazardous ingredients and their concentration levels. This information is vital for risk assessment, exposure control, and emergency response planning.
  • First-Aid Measures: The First-Aid Measures section provides guidance on immediate medical response in case of exposure or accidents. It outlines specific actions to be taken, such as eye rinsing or ingestion instructions, ensuring prompt and appropriate medical attention.
  • Firefighting Measures: Here, the SDS details firefighting procedures for extinguishing fires involving the chemical. It includes suitable extinguishing agents, methods, and precautions to prevent fire spread.
  • Accidental Release Measures: This section outlines measures to be taken in the event of a spill or release of the chemical. It includes containment, clean-up procedures, and protective equipment for responders.
  • Handling and Storage Instructions: The SDS provides guidelines for safe handling and storage of the chemical, ensuring proper precautions are taken during usage and storage to prevent accidents.
  • Exposure/Personal Protection Controls: In this part, the SDS explains exposure limits and recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) to minimize health risks during handling and use of the chemical.
  • Physical and Chemical Properties: This section describes the physical and chemical characteristics of the substance, including appearance, odor, pH, and melting/boiling points.
  • Stability and Reactivity: The Stability and Reactivity section outlines the chemical's stability and potential reactivity hazards, including conditions to avoid, such as incompatibilities with other substances.
  • Toxicological Information: Here, the SDS provides information on the chemical's toxicological effects on human health, including acute and chronic exposure data.
  • Ecological Information: This part presents data on the chemical's potential environmental impact and ecological effects, aiding in responsible environmental management.
  • Disposal Considerations: The SDS offers guidance on proper disposal methods for the chemical, promoting environmentally responsible waste management.
  • Transport Considerations: This section addresses transportation requirements and regulations for shipping the chemical safely.
  • Regulatory Information: The Regulatory Information section provides details on the chemical's compliance with relevant regulations and standards.
  • Other Information: This final section may include additional information that does not fit into the previous categories, such as revision history or sources for further information.

MSDS Vs SDS: Key Differences

Format and Structure Variations: Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) exhibit distinct formats. MSDS often lacks standardization, varying in layout and organization. In contrast, SDS follows a uniform 16-section structure, enabling easy access to specific information.

Hazard Classification and Labeling: MSDS commonly utilizes different hazard classification systems, causing confusion and inconsistency in hazard communication. Conversely, SDS adheres to the GHS guidelines, employing standardized hazard pictograms, signal words, and hazard statements for consistent communication of chemical hazards.

Information Accessibility and Modern Technologies: MSDS was traditionally printed and physically stored, impeding accessibility, especially during emergencies. SDS benefits from modern technologies, allowing electronic storage and online access, facilitating quick retrieval and distribution. Moreover, SDS leverages mobile applications and cloud-based platforms for real-time information exchange, enhancing usability.


1. What is the legal requirement for providing MSDS/SDS?
The legal requirement for providing MSDS/SDS is mandated by various regulatory bodies globally. Employers and manufacturers are obligated to supply these documents to downstream users or employees who handle hazardous chemicals. Compliance ensures that individuals have access to crucial safety information for proper handling, storage, and emergency response.

2. Can MSDS and SDS be used interchangeably?
MSDS and SDS are not interchangeable. While both provide safety information about hazardous chemicals, they have distinct formats and hazard communication elements. MSDS follows older non-standardized formats, while SDS adheres to a uniform 16-section layout under the GHS guidelines. Utilizing the correct format ensures consistent and clear communication of hazards.

3. How often should MSDS/SDS be updated?
MSDS/SDS should be regularly updated to reflect accurate and current information. Manufacturers and suppliers are responsible for revising the documents whenever new data on hazards or safety measures becomes available. Users should check for updates and ensure that they are using the latest version to maintain safety compliance.

4. What is the role of employers in MSDS/SDS compliance?
Employers play a crucial role in MSDS/SDS compliance. They must obtain and maintain up-to-date safety data sheets for all hazardous chemicals used in the workplace. Employers are responsible for providing access to SDS for employees and ensuring proper training on chemical hazards and safe handling procedures.

5. How can technology streamline MSDS/SDS management?
Technology offers various tools to streamline MSDS/SDS management. Employing electronic databases or cloud-based systems enables easy access, storage, and retrieval of safety data sheets. Mobile applications allow real-time information updates and accessibility on the go, enhancing safety protocols and hazard communication.

6. Why is MSDS changed to SDS?

MSDS was changed to SDS to adopt the Globally Harmonized System (GHS), providing a consistent framework for classifying and communicating chemical hazards globally. SDS offers a standardized format for improved hazard communication.

The material provided in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional/legal advice or substitute government regulations, industry standards, or other requirements specific to any business/activity. While we made sure to provide accurate and reliable information, we make no representation that the details or sources are up-to-date, complete or remain available. Readers should consult with an industrial safety expert, qualified professional, or attorney for any specific concerns and questions.


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Author: Herbert Post

Born in the Philadelphia area and raised in Houston by a family who was predominately employed in heavy manufacturing. Herb took a liking to factory processes and later safety compliance where he has spent the last 13 years facilitating best practices and teaching updated regulations. He is married with two children and a St Bernard named Jose. Herb is a self-described compliance geek. When he isn’t studying safety reports and regulatory interpretations he enjoys racquetball and watching his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys.