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Understanding the safety data sheet

In this lesson, we will explain what are Safety Data Sheet (SDS) is and its uses.

It is important for all workers to be able to read and understand the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) of chemicals and substances that they are using at work. An SDS is a document that provides detailed information about a hazardous chemical. It provides information for eliminating or minimising the risks associated with the use of hazardous chemicals in workplaces.

The implementation of the SDS was based on the United Nations adopting the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) in 2003. The GHS includes criteria for the classification of health, physical and environmental hazards, as well as specifying what information should be included on labels of hazardous chemicals as well as safety data sheets. The reason for developing GHS is to ensure that the information and labelling for chemicals between countries and between different industries within countries are uniform; for example, before the implementation of the GHS, in Malaysia, we used Chemical Safety Data Sheet (CSDS) and in the US, they use Material Safety Data Sheet.

Components of SDS

The information in the SDS is arranged under 16 sections:

  • Section 1 – Identification: Product identifier and chemical identity
  • Section 2 – Hazard(s) identification
  • Section 3 – Composition and information on ingredients
  • Section 4 – First-aid measures
  • Section 5 – Firefighting measures
  • Section 6 – Accidental release measures
  • Section 7 – Handling and storage, including how the chemical may be safely used
  • Section 8 – Exposure controls and personal protection
  • Section 9 – Physical and chemical properties
  • Section 10 – Stability and reactivity
  • Section 11 – Toxicological information
  • Section 12 – Ecological information
  • Section 13 – Disposal considerations
  • Section 14 – Transport information
  • Section 15 – Regulatory information
  • Section 16 – Any other relevant information.

The SDS provides detailed information about a chemical, including:

  • the identity of the chemical product and its ingredients,
  • the hazards of the chemical including health hazards, physical hazards and environmental hazards,
  • physical properties of the chemical, like boiling point, flash point and incompatibilities with other chemicals,
  • workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants,
  • safe handling and storage procedures for the chemical,
  • what to do in the event of an emergency or spill,
  • first aid information, and
  • transport information.

The important sections that are related to Occupational Health are Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8 and 11.

Section 1 – Identification: Product identifier and chemical identity

This section contains the product identifier or tradename, contact details of the manufacturer or importer responsible for supplying the chemical, and the telephone number to contact in case of an emergency. The information in this section should be consistent with the label.

Section 2 – Hazard(s) identification

The section gives details on the potential health and physical hazards of the chemical. This information can be used to help assess the risks to the health and safety of workers, other people, and the environment.

Hazard Pictograms

It includes hazard pictograms, there are nine pictograms, providing recognition of the hazards associated with certain substances. Each pictogram covers a specific type of hazard and is designed to be immediately recognisable to anyone handling hazardous material. In addition to pictograms, labels are required to include a signal word (“danger” or “warning”), a brief hazard statement and a precautionary statement outlining ways to prevent exposure.

Health Hazard *Health Hazard
  • Carcinogen–may cause cancer;
  • Respiratory sensitizer–may cause respiratory irritation;
  • Reproductive toxicity–may damage fertility or the unborn child;
  • Target organ toxicity–may cause damage to bodily organs;
  • Mutagenicity–may cause genetic defects; and
  • Aspiration toxicity–may be fatal if swallowed and it enters the airways.
Corrosive *Corrosive

This pictogram means that the substance causes skin burns, eye damage, or destroys metals.

Skull and Crossbones *Skull and Crossbones

Substances with a hazard of acute toxicity will have this symbol on their chemical label. Acute toxicity means that exposure to a single dose of the chemical may be toxic or fatal if inhaled or swallowed, or if it comes into contact with the skin.

Exclamation Mark *Exclamation Mark
  • Irritant–irritates the skin or eyes;
  • Skin sensitizer–which is an allergic response following skin contact;
  • Acute toxicity–which may be fatal or cause organ damage from a single short-term exposure;
  • Narcotic effects like drowsiness, lack of coordination, and dizziness; and
  • Respiratory tract irritation.
Gas Cylinder Gas Cylinder

This pictogram means that the substance is a compressed, liquefied, or dissolved gas under pressure.

Flame Flame
  • Flammables–which are gases, aerosols, liquids, or solids that will burn or ignite under certain conditions,
  • Self-Reactives–heating alone, without air, may cause fire or explosion,
  • Pyrophorics–in small amounts, may ignite within 5 minutes after contact with air,
  • Self-Heating–which may catch fire only in large amounts and after long periods of time when exposed to air,
  • Emitters of flammable gas, and
  • Organic peroxides–which, when heated, may cause fire or explosion; may be sensitive to impact or friction; and may react dangerously with other chemicals.
Exploding Bomb Exploding Bomb
  • Explosives—which is a solid or liquid chemical capable of a chemical reaction that causes damage to the surroundings,
  • Self-Reactive—heating may cause fire or explosion without the need for air, or
  • Organic peroxides—again, heating may cause fire or explosion.
Flame over circle Flame over circle

This symbol means that the substance is an oxidizer. Oxidizers may cause a fire by increasing the concentration of oxygen in the air.

Environment Environment

This pictogram means the hazard the chemical presents is aquatic toxicity.

*Pictogram that is related to Occupational Health

Hazard Statements and Codes

The hazard statements form part of the GHS. Hazard statements briefly describe the hazardous or toxic properties of the substances. Each substance may have more than one hazard statement. Each hazard statement is designated a code, starting with the letter H and followed by three digits.

Hazard codes are grouped based on the type of hazards:

  • H200-H290 – Physical Hazards
  • H300-H373 – Health Hazards
  • H400-H441 – Environmental Hazards

The health hazards statements include the reference to the toxicity of the hazardous substances from being swallowed, in contact with skin, or inhaled. The toxicity ranged from harmful, toxic, irritation, allergy, genetic defect, cancer and fatal, and damage to fertility and unborn child.


The hazard statements and codes for health effects of the unleaded petroleum product:

  • H304 – May be fatal if swallowed and enters airways.
  • H315 – Causes skin irritation.
  • H336 – May cause drowsiness or dizziness.
  • H351 – Suspected of causing cancer.
  • H361D – Suspected of damaging the unborn child.

Section 3 – Composition and information on ingredients

If the chemical is a mixture, this section consists of information on the identity and proportions of hazardous ingredients in the mixture.


The component of chemicals in unleaded petroleum product

Table: The component of chemicals in an example unleaded Gasoline Table shows the component chemicals in an example of unleaded Gasoline

*CAS NUMBER – Chemical Abstracts Service Registry Number is a unique identifier for a specific chemical

Section 4 – First-aid measures

Describes the necessary first aid measures to be taken in case of an accident.


Description of first aid measure for unleaded petroleum product.

  • Eye: No specific first aid measures are required. As a precaution, remove contact lenses, if worn, and flush your eyes with water.
  • Skin: Wash skin with water immediately and remove contaminated clothing and shoes. Get medical attention if any symptoms develop. To remove the material from the skin, use soap and water. Discard contaminated clothing and shoes or thoroughly clean them before reuse.
  • Ingestion: If swallowed, get immediate medical attention. Do not induce vomiting. Never give anything by mouth to an unconscious person.
  • Inhalation: Move the exposed person to fresh air. If not breathing, give artificial respiration. If breathing is difficult, give oxygen. Get medical attention if breathing difficulties continue or if any other symptoms develop.

Section 6 – Accidental release measures

Describes what actions need to be taken if there is an accidental release or spill of the chemical to minimise adverse effects on people, property and the environment.


Description of measures needed to be taken for unleaded petroleum product accidental release.

  • Personal Precautions, Protective Equipment and Emergency Procedures: Eliminate all sources of ignition in the vicinity of the spill or released vapour. If this material is released into the work area, evacuate the area immediately. Monitor area with combustible gas indicator.
  • Environmental Precautions: Stop the source of the release if you can do it without risk. Contain release to prevent further contamination of soil, surface water or groundwater.
  • Methods and Material For Containment and Cleaning Up: Clean up spill as soon as possible, observing precautions in Exposure Controls/Personal Protection. Use appropriate techniques such as applying non-combustible absorbent materials or pumping. Where feasible and appropriate, remove contaminated soil. Place contaminated materials in disposable containers and dispose of them in a manner consistent with applicable regulations. Report spills to local authorities as appropriate or required.

Section 8 – Exposure controls and personal protection

Provides information on control measures that can be used to reduce exposure, for example, engineering controls, information on exposure standards and guidance on required personal protective equipment (PPE).


Description of measures needed to be taken for unleaded petroleum product exposure control and personal protective equipment requirements.


Consider the potential hazards of this material, applicable exposure limits, job activities, and other substances in the workplace when designing engineering controls and selecting personal protective equipment. If engineering controls or work practices are not adequate to prevent exposure to harmful levels of this material, the personal protective equipment listed below is recommended. The user should read and understand all instructions and limitations supplied with the equipment since protection is usually provided for a limited time or under certain circumstances.


Use process enclosures, local exhaust ventilation, or other engineering controls to control airborne levels below the recommended exposure limits.


  • Eye/Face Protection: No special eye protection is normally required. Where splashing is possible, wear safety glasses with side shields as a good safety practice.
  • Skin Protection: Wear protective clothing to prevent skin contact. Selection of protective clothing may include gloves, apron, boots, and complete facial protection depending on operations conducted. Suggested materials for protective gloves include: Chlorinated Polyethylene (or Chlorosulfonated Polyethylene), Nitrile Rubber, Polyurethane, Viton.
  • Respiratory Protection: Determine if airborne concentrations are below the recommended occupational exposure limits for the jurisdiction of use. If airborne concentrations are above the acceptable limits, wear an approved respirator that provides adequate protection from this material, such as: Air-Purifying Respirator for Organic Vapors. When used as a fuel, this material can produce carbon monoxide in the exhaust. Determine if airborne concentrations are below the occupational exposure limit for carbon monoxide. If not, wear an approved positive pressure air-supplying respirator. Use a positive pressure air-supplying respirator in circumstances where air-purifying respirators may not provide adequate protection.

NOTE: The information on exposure control measures and the use of personal protective equipment will be discussed further in greater detail in Week 4: Implementing Risk Mitigation and Management.

Section 11 – Toxicological information

Provides detailed information on the toxicological properties of the chemical. This section is used primarily by medical professionals, toxicologists and occupational safety and health professionals. It provides detailed toxicology information about the substances.

Example: SDS for Unleaded Gasolline

© Universiti Malaya
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Occupational Safety and Health Hazards

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