MSDS or SDS Definition: What Is a Safety Data Sheet?

Safety data sheet display

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MSDS is an acronym for Material Safety Data Sheet. A MSDS is a written document that outlines information and procedures for handling and working with chemicals. The document may also be called a safety data sheet (SDS) or product safety data sheet (PSDS). The MSDS format is considered to be an older data sheet style. The United States adopted the Safety Data Sheet to replace the Material Safety Data Sheet in 2012. The SDS is not appreciably different from the MSDS, but the information is presented in consistent manner and is internationally standardized. This is so users can quickly and easily find relevant facts.
Current MSDS documents contain physical and chemical property information, potential hazard information, protective measures, storage and transport precautions, emergency procedures including how to handle spills or accidental exposure, disposal recommendations, and manufacturer contact information.

Key Takeaways: MSDS or SDS (Safety Data Sheet)

  • MSDS stands for Material Safety Data Sheet. MSDS is an older format that should be replaced by SDS, which is an internationally standardized Safety Data Sheet. MSDS sheets contain basically the same information as SDS, but the language and organization of the information may be different.
  • Both MSDS and SDS are data sheets that describe the properties and hazards of a chemical.
  • SDS are written in English, follow a prescribed format, and use the European Union standard symbols for hazards.

MSDS or SDS Purpose

The MSDS or SDS for a chemical, compound, or mixture targets workers who deal with a substance in an occupational setting or those needing to transport/store a chemical or deal with accidents. For this reason, the data sheet might not be easily read by a lay person.

Cautionary Advice

Some products with identical names and sold by the same company may have different formulations, depending on the country. Similarly, generic products may vary in composition from branded products. For this reason, one shouldn't assume safety data sheets are necessarily interchangeable between countries or products.

SDS Globally Harmonized System

A SDS follows the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. This is a 16-section format, written in English, that contains the following facts in the specified order:

  • SECTION 1: Identification of the substance/mixture and of the company/undertaking
    1.1. Product identifier
  • 1.2. Relevant identified uses of the substance or mixture and uses advised against
  • 1.3. Details of the supplier of the safety data sheet
  • 1.4. Emergency telephone number
  • SECTION 2: Hazards identification
    2.1. Classification of the substance or mixture
  • 2.2. Label elements
  • 2.3. Other hazards
  • SECTION 3: Composition/information on ingredients
    3.1. Substances
  • 3.2. Mixtures
  • SECTION 4: First aid measures
    4.1. Description of first aid measures
  • 4.2. Most important symptoms and effects, both acute and delayed
  • 4.3. Indication of any immediate medical attention and special treatment needed
  • SECTION 5: Firefighting measures
    5.1. Extinguishing media
  • 5.2. Special hazards arising from the substance or mixture
  • 5.3. Advice for firefighters
  • SECTION 6: Accidental release measure
    6.1. Personal precautions, protective equipment and emergency procedures
  • 6.2. Environmental precautions
  • 6.3. Methods and material for containment and cleaning up
  • 6.4. Reference to other sections
  • SECTION 7: Handling and storage
    7.1. Precautions for safe handling
  • 7.2. Conditions for safe storage, including any incompatibilities
  • 7.3. Specific end use(s)
  • SECTION 8: Exposure controls/personal protection
    8.1. Control parameters
  • 8.2. Exposure controls
  • SECTION 9: Physical and chemical properties
    9.1. Information on basic physical and chemical properties
  • 9.2. Other information
  • SECTION 10: Stability and reactivity
    10.1. Reactivity
  • 10.2. Chemical stability
  • 10.3. Possibility of hazardous reactions
  • 10.4. Conditions to avoid
  • 10.5. Incompatible materials
  • 10.6. Hazardous decomposition products
  • SECTION 11: Toxicological information
    11.1. Information on toxicological effects
  • SECTION 12: Ecological information
    12.1. Toxicity
  • 12.2. Persistence and degradability
  • 12.3. Bioaccumulative potential
  • 12.4. Mobility in soil
  • 12.5. Results of PBT and vPvB assessment
  • 12.6. Other adverse effects
  • SECTION 13: Disposal considerations
    13.1. Waste treatment methods
  • SECTION 14: Transport information
    14.1. UN number
  • 14.2. UN proper shipping name
  • 14.3. Transport hazard class(es)
  • 14.4. Packing group
  • 14.5. Environmental hazards
  • 14.6. Special precautions for user
  • 14.7. Transport in bulk according to Annex II of MARPOL73/78 and the IBC Code
  • SECTION 15: Regulatory information
    15.1. Safety, health and environmental regulations/legislation specific for the substance or mixture
  • 15.2. Chemical safety assessment
  • SECTION 16: Other information
    16.2. Date of the latest revision of the SDS

Where to Get Safety Data Sheets

In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers make SDSs available to all employees that handle potentially hazardous substances. Further, SDSs must be available to local fire departments, local emergency planning officials, and state planning officials.

When a hazardous chemical is purchased, the supplier should send SDS information. While this may be printed, it's more often available online. Companies that supply hazardous chemicals typically use a service that writes and updates data sheets. If you don't have a data sheet for a chemical, you can look it up online. The University of California hosts the SDS Google search. The best way to search for a chemical is by its Chemical Abstracts Service Registry Number (CAS number). The CAS number is a unique identifier defined by the American Chemical Society and is used internationally. Be advised, some formulations are mixtures rather than pure chemicals. The hazard information of a mixture tends not to be the same as the hazards posed by individual components!


  • Janelle, Donald G; Beuthe, Michel (1997). "Globalization and research issues in transportation." Journal of Transport Geography. Elsevier Science Ltd. 
  • U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. "Hazard Communication Standard: Safety Data Sheets." 
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Your Citation
Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "MSDS or SDS Definition: What Is a Safety Data Sheet?" ThoughtCo, Sep. 7, 2021, Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2021, September 7). MSDS or SDS Definition: What Is a Safety Data Sheet? Retrieved from Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "MSDS or SDS Definition: What Is a Safety Data Sheet?" ThoughtCo. (accessed February 8, 2023).