New GHS Safety Data Sheet formatting and content requirements

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced that organizations that produce or use hazardous chemicals must follow the Globally Harmonized System (GHS). GHS is a world-wide initiative to ensure that safety information for chemicals is consistently presented across all cultures and industries. Its purpose is to protect workers who are exposed to potentially harmful chemicals by making information easier to understand.

Under the GHS, one key change will be the formatting and content required for Safety Data Sheets (SDSs). Currently called Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs), these documents explain the risks and safety procedures for chemical handling.

Companies often provide chemical information in a variety of formats. The GHS mandates that all SDSs follow a strict, standardized 16-section format. This standardized format will make it simpler for employees to understand the risks involved with chemicals and the safety equipment and procedures they should use when working with them. For example, if an employee can easily find the proper safety precautions on an SDS, they will quickly understand when to use the appropriate safety supplies, including safety goggles, gloves, and protective clothing.

The universal GHS format includes fixed headings, sequencing, and minimum information requirements that are similar to current suggested MSDS formats. Appendix A of OSHA’s Guide to GHS provides a detailed table that compares the existing MSDS elements to the new GHS SDSs.

Although the GHS builds on current practices, and many of the requirements are already standard practice in various industries and countries the differences between current MSDS standards and those outlined in the GHS guidelines are great enough that nearly all companies can expect 100% turnover of their active MSDS forms.

Some key content and formatting differences include:

• SDS sections must follow a strict order and the order of sections 2 and 3 have been reversed when compared to some current international industry recommendations.
• GHS classifications must be provided for each chemical, along with any national or regional information.
• GHS label elements must be reproduced in the SDS, either graphically or textually.
• Under the GHS, an emergency phone number must be included on the SDS.
• The recommended use of the chemical and any restrictions on its use must be indicated. This is not currently required under all regulations.
• SDSs will need to list the Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) numbers of hazardous components in the substance and any chemical impurities must be indicated.
• In addition to listing suitable measures for fire extinguishing, SDSs must also include unsuitable methods.
• The GHS requires more detailed information on accidental release measures for containment and cleanup, including proper personal and environmental precautions, methods, and materials.
• Under the GHS, SDSs must include guidelines for safe storage.
• GHS guidelines provide a detailed listing of information that must be included and the specific order that information must be presented including the physical and chemical properties, stability, reactivity, and toxicology of the chemical.
• The GHS requires that SDSs include ecological information, disposal considerations, transport information, and regulatory information. OSHA currently does not require these.

While these differences will likely take time to get used to, they will also make the communication of chemical information more clear and efficient for employees and emergency responders. Training workers now on the new SDS formats will not only help to protect them from chemical hazards — it will also help them to be prepared for the transition to GHS.

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