August 28, 2020 6 min read

What is an MSDS or SDS? Is there a difference?


Multiple Industries


Vector EHS ManagementVector SDS and Chemical Management

It’s no secret that there are numerous hazardous chemicals in workplaces that can be dangerous to a worker’s health and safety. That’s why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) developed its Hazard Communication (HAZCOM) Standard to easily communicate the potential dangers of a chemical to its workers.

Part of the HAZCOM Standard requires organizations to have safety data sheets (SDS) for each hazardous material and chemical that could be encountered in the workplace. A safety data sheet (formally known as Material Safety Data Sheets or MSDS) is a document to summarize important health and safety information for hazardous chemicals. Each chemical should have its own SDS that is easily accessible to employees who may be exposed to said chemical.

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Prior to OSHA updating certain requirements of HAZCOM in 2012, safety data sheets were known as material safety data sheets (MSDS). Since then, there has often been some confusion regarding MSDS vs SDS. This article will help clarify the differences between the two, and offer resources to ensure you’re in compliance with OSHA’s HAZCOM standard.

What information is on an SDS?

Safety data sheets are meant to easily convey the potential dangers of each chemical an employee may encounter. SDS information includes the properties of each chemical, all potential hazards and protective measures, and precautions for the safe transporting, handling and storage of the chemical.

The minimum information that must be included in an SDS is listed in Appendix D of OSHA’s HAZCOM Standard. It is also important to know that, while other languages are allowed, each SDS must have a copy in English.

Finally an SDS must be formatted according to the UN Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) requirements. This means all safety data sheets must follow the same 16 section format, making it easy to search for specific information. Below are the 16 sections of an SDS.

  1. Identification
  2. Hazard(s) Identification
  3. Composition/Information on Ingredients
  4. First-aid Measures
  5. Fire-fighting Measures
  6. Accidental Release Measures
  7. Handling and Storage
  8. Exposure Controls/Personal Protection
  9. Physical and Chemical Properties
  10. Stability and Reactivity
  11. Toxicological Information
  12. Ecological Information (Non-Mandatory)
  13. Disposal Considerations (Non-Mandatory)
  14. Transport Information (Non-Mandatory)
  15. Regulatory Information (Non-Mandatory)
  16. Other Information, including date of preparation or last revision
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What is the difference between MSDS and SDS sheets?

The main difference between an MSDS and an SDS is the standardized formatting. All SDSs follow the GHS’s 16 section formatting, while MSDSs could come in many different formats depending on the organization. Beyond that, they aim to convey the same information regarding chemical hazards.

By regulating MSDSs in accordance with the GHS, it is now simpler and easier to find common hazard safety information with SDSs. Since June 1, 2015, all MSDSs should have been converted into SDS format. However, old habits die hard, so if you hear someone refer to an MSDS, you know they’re really talking about an SDS.

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