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Safety Data Sheets (SDS)

The MSDS in the stockroom



1. The MSDS is now known as the SDS.

For many decades, the material safety data sheet (MSDS) has been the back-bone of OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS).  However, the Hazard Communication Standard has been revised by OSHA to align with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS), resulting in substantial changes to the MSDS.

GlasswareBased on the MSDS provisions in HazCom 1994, there are currently a number of different MSDS styles and formats in use in the United States, the most common being the 8 section OSHA MSDS and the 16 section ANSI standard MSDS. OSHA’s adoption of GHS via HazCom 2012, on the other hand, mandates the use of a single GHS format for safety data sheets, a format which features 16 sections in a strict ordering.

Another change, thanks to GHS, is the renaming of material safety data sheets from MSDSs to simply safety data sheets.

Unfortunately, the dropping of the M has caused more consternation than is warranted. The truth is, an SDS is an MSDS, especially in terms of the role they play in the HCS. In fact, the GHS SDS format is nearly identical to the ANSI Standard 16 section MSDS – with a couple of modifications.

2. What's an SDS/MSDS?

The Safety Data Sheet, or SDS is the current standard of the document which gives detailed information about a material and about any hazards associated with the material. OSHA specifies that each SDS must include, at a minimum, the information listed in the 16 sections listed below. The GHS sets forth certain responsibilities having to do with SDSs:

As mentioned above, the GHS formatted SDS has 16 sections as follows (source: OSHA SDS Quick Card):

  • Section 1, Identification includes product identifier; manufacturer or distributor name, address, phone number; emergency phone number; recommended use; restrictions on use.
  • Section 2, Hazard(s) identification includes all hazards regarding the chemical; required label elements.
  • Section 3, Composition/information on ingredients includes information on chemical ingredients; trade secret claims.
  • Section 4, First-aid measures includes important symptoms/ effects, acute, delayed; required treatment.
  • Section 5, Fire-fighting measures lists suitable extinguishing techniques, equipment; chemical hazards from fire.
  • Section 6, Accidental release measures lists emergency procedures; protective equipment; proper methods of containment and cleanup.
  • Section 7, Handling and storage lists precautions for safe handling and storage, including incompatibilities.
  • Section 8, Exposure controls/personal protection lists OSHA’s Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs); Threshold Limit Values (TLVs); appropriate engineering controls; personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Section 9, Physical and chemical properties lists the chemical’s characteristics.
  • Section 10, Stability and reactivity lists chemical stability and possibility of hazardous reactions.
  • Section 11, Toxicological information includes routes of exposure; related symptoms, acute and chronic effects; numerical measures of toxicity.
  • Section 12, Ecological information*
  • Section 13, Disposal considerations*
  • Section 14, Transport information*
  • Section 15, Regulatory information*
  • Section 16, Other information, includes the date of preparation or last revision.


*Note: Since other Agencies regulate this information, OSHA will not be enforcing Sections 12 through 15(29 CFR 1910.1200(g)(2)).

For the older Material Safety Data Sheets, or MSDSs:

OSHA specifies that each MSDS must include, at a minimum, the information listed in the 12 sections below. Beyond that, OSHA did not specify the exact format of the MSDS, nor even how the information should be broken into sections, and so MSDSs prepared by different manufacturers tend to look different and contain different information. Even MSDSs for the same chemical can be quite different, if they were prepared by different manufacturers.

The OSHA-mandated MSDS information is as follows:

Note that the information below must be included in an MSDS. Often, additional information will be included, depending on which manufacturer produced the MSDS in question. There is no standard format for an MSDS.


  • It is the responsibility of the manufacturer of a material to determine what hazards are associated with the material, to prepare an MSDS for the material, and to provide the MSDS to any recipients of the material.
  • It is the responsibility of an employer to provide MSDSs and training in their interpretation to the employees. MSDSs for hazardous materials must be immediately available in the workplace.
  • It is the responsibility of the employees to read and understand the MSDSs of any chemicals used on the job.
  • The chemical identity as listed on the label of the bottle including all ingredients including the chemical and common names of all hazardous ingredients
  • Physical and chemical characteristics (melting point, flash point, etc.)
  • Physical hazards (fire, explosion, and reactivity data)
  • Health hazards, including signs and symptoms of exposure
  • Primary route(s) of entry into the body
  • Exposure limits as set by OSHA or other agencies
  • Whether the chemical is a confirmed or potential carcinogen as determined by OSHA or other agencies
  • Precautions for safe handling and use
  • Applicable control measures
  • Emergency and first aid procedures
  • Date of preparation and latest revision of the MSDS
  • Contact information of the preparer of the MSDS
3. How to read a SDS or a MSDS

The amount of information presented in an SDS or MSDS can be quite daunting to someone unfamiliar with the format. The challenge is in interpreting all the information supplied, and making sense of the sometimes confusing language. This is made more difficult because, besides the information which must appear on the MSDS (detailed above), there is no standardized format.

A good way to get an idea of the nature of a particular chemical from its MSDS is to read the hazards information (refer to the NFPA and HMIS Hazard Labeling System) and the toxicity information.

Of course, to thoroughly familiarize yourself with the hazards of a chemical, you will want to read the entire MSDS. If you have difficulty interpreting some of the language used in an MSDS (for instance, what do you do if a chemical causes alopecia or bradycardia? What precautions are necessary to prevent paresthesias?), here is an online MSDS Dictionary which defines hundreds of medical and technical terms used in an MSDS.

4. Where to find a SDS/MSDS

There are probably about as many places online to find SDSs as there are SDSs. Manufacturers provide online lists, and so do many universities and government agencies. What follows is a short list to get you started.

On the SUNY Geneseo campus:

  • All laboratories and facilities using chemicals should have ready access to copies of SDSs. 

Searchable Databases:

Vendor SDS Databases:

(The following vendors listed below are the most common vendors from whom the Chemistry Stockroom purchases chemicals.  Most of the chemicals found in the teaching labs at SUNY Geneseo will be from these four suppliers.)

Information about SDSs:

  • If you are employed by the University and work with hazardous chemicals on the job, then your department should provide SDSs for these materials.
  • If you are a student in the Chem teaching labs, SDSs are available from the stockroom.
  • MSDS Online. Commercial site; many listings available only by subscription (rates start at $75 per year).
  • Interactive Learning Paradigms, Inc. A bit of a dated site, but still quite a good resource for all your MSDS questions. Manages to incorporate humor as well.
  • MSDS Search. Pretty comprehensive site, a bit visually distracting. Features the very useful MSDS Dictionary.