MSDS vs SDS: Understanding the Transformation of Safety Data Sheets

Businessman presenting work safety concept, hazards, protections, health and regulations

MSDS vs SDS: what’s the difference? 

Do you know your ANSI from your ASME?

In the U.S., OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) laws and regulations protect workers from injury. The comprehensive standards include rules for different chemicals, cleaning solutions, and even building materials. 

No industry is exempt from OSHA oversight. Some very large workplaces might have a person hired specifically to watch over workplace safety. Small businesses might have one person named the safety officer among many other duties.

Does the alphabet soup around workplace safety make your eyes glaze over?  We can help. 

Read on to learn more.

Industry Veterans Know MSDS

Instructions for the proper and safe use of chemical materials in construction go back to the pyramids of Egypt.

That’s right, you can find the precursor of the MSDS in hieroglyphs. That means ibis, eye, and fire all together mean something to the hapless engineer in charge of pharaoh’s tomb.

The Dow Chemical company started giving instructions and safety information with their chemical products in the 1950s. MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) became part of U.S. Maritime regulations in the 1960s. OSHA adopted regulations for all industries and employers in 1987.

MSDS regulations gave employees the right to know what they were working with, the proper use, and the hazards. The sheets included any special equipment or protective gear needed and the treatment for exposure. It was presented and provided by each chemical manufacturer.

MSDS Information

MSDS are written or printed materials containing information about a chemical. The content of the MSDS is legally described in OSHA regulations. The organization of the written material and the words used are at the discretion of the manufacturer.

The law prescribes the basic information included for the safety and health of users at all stages of the chemical use. The manufacture of the chemical, its safe storage, and use, and finally, its disposal are part of the MSDS. OSHA uses recommendations from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to form the body of legislation.

OSHA is clear as to where and with whom an MSDS is shared. Access is important. Many businesses use information binders or folders at the worksite. Others use online safety data sheet management solutions.


What’s the difference between MSDS and SDS? SDS stands for Safety Data Sheet. Functionally, there is no difference between an MSDS and an SDS. However, OSHA mandates Globally Harmonized System (GHS) SDS beginning in 2012.

The GHS SDS is different from the old MSDS. The most noticeable changes are to the chemical classification scheme, safety labels, and the SDS. The language and information organization is strict and uniform. There are 16 standardized sections in a prescribed order on every SDS.  

The United Nations developed GHS to bring the chemical regulations and standards of different countries into agreement. The U.S. adopted HazCom 2012 to bring the U.S. system of communication into compliance beginning in 2012. 

GHS Basics

GHS is not some sort of worldwide law. It is a system of best practices chemical handling and communication that countries may pick and choose from.  Each country is responsible for the adoption of the practices and their enforcement within its borders.

GHS includes a comprehensive methodology to define the hazards of a chemical compound. (Health, physical and environmental) OSHA concerns itself with health and physical hazards only.

GHS creates a process to classify hazards similarly and communicate them uniformly. 

Change From MSDS to SDS

In a side by side comparison,  MSDS vs SDS,  you will see some changes. The symbols and colors may be different. The Globally Harmonized SDS uses symbols and universally recognized phrases. 

These standard phrases and tools differ slightly from the older MSDS phrases. Manufacturers phased in the use of SDS in 2012 and almost all hazardous materials on the market today have OSHA-compliant phrasing.

A Globally Harmonized SDS may be far more informative than the old MSDS form. The old forms were designed by the manufacturer and the information could vary, depending on the interpretation of OSHA regulations.

Keep Records Up to Date

The greatest challenge to the change from MSDS to SDS is human inertia. Keeping track of when the information changes, whether or not everyone has seen it, and then recording the information of a frequent basis can be a full-time job.

OSHA requires that an SDS be:

  • Up to date
  • Accessible anytime
  • Visible

The SDS needs an update and user review whenever there is a significant change to the chemical compound, procedure, or known hazards. 

Train Users to Read the SDS

An SDS has the same 16 sections, in the same order, regardless of the chemical composition. They are:

  • Identification
  • Hazard(s) Identification
  • First-Aid Measures
  • Composition/Information on Ingredients
  • Fire-Fighting Measures
  • Accidental Release Measures
  • Handling and Storage
  • Exposure Controls/Personal Protection
  • Physical and Chemical Properties
  • Stability and Reactivity
  • Toxicological Information
  • Ecological Information
  • Disposal Considerations
  • Transport Information
  • Regulatory Information
  • Other Information

It is important for users to read and understand the whole sheet. An SDS does not expire in the U.S. It remains in use until it is updated or replaced by the manufacturer. Other countries require regular updates.

The Safety Data Sheet Is Part of OSHA Compliance

Experienced workers may prefer the MSDS vs SDS, but that is due to familiarity. OSHA rules and regulations for worker safety call for the full transition to GHS SDS over time.

The SDS is the first part of communication to prepare, use, and store chemical compounds. This includes things such as janitorial supplies, fertilizers, nail polish remover, and more. 

Workers must read and understand each chemical at the worksite before use. OSHA requires a record. 

Up to date file maintenance is a must. All SDS files should be visible, regularly reviewed, and accessible. Failure to provide an SDS or records of training can be costly. OSHA guidelines protect workers and employers from accidents and injury. 

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