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MSDS vs SDS Explained: Where to Find, How to Read, & What to Look For

MSDS vs SDS Explained: Where to Find, How to Read, & What to Look For

Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) can be intimidating to first time users, and even veterans, who may be using a new or different cleaning product for the first time.

It is important for anyone handling or using commercial cleaning supplies to become familiarized with SDSs. Understanding how to read and apply the information on a Safety Data Sheet will allow you to work more safely and to do your job better.

This article will clarify the sections of a safety data sheet and allow you to become more familiar with the format and contents of one.

MSDS vs SDS: Are Safety Data Sheets the same as Material Safety Data Sheets? 

SDS or Safety Data Sheets, formally known as MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) are the internationally recognized format for communicating the use, handling, and storage of hazardous products.

In 2012, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) revised their guidelines to align with the Globally Harmonized System to allow for hazardous chemical information to be presented to users in a consistent, uniform, and easy-to-understand way. Prior to revision, MSDS could vary from product, source, and country making the guidelines hard to follow and very inconsistent.

Manufacturers, distributors, or importers of the product are now required to follow the new 16-section SDS format which presents information in a consistent way.

Where To Find Safety Data Sheets 

OSHA requires that Safety Data Sheets for all hazardous chemicals are readily accessible to all employees during every shift.

Safety Data Sheets can be hard copies kept in binders or digitally maintained versions on a computer. Either hard copy or online storage is acceptable as long as employees are trained on how to access the files and can easily get to the information in their respective work area.

It is critical that employers keep SDS sheets:

  • Clearly visible
  • Up-to-date
  • Easily accessible at all times

SDSs should be updated every time a significant change has been made to the chemical compound or new information becomes available regarding the hazardous chemical.

Employers should continually source up-to-date SDSs to protect the safety of employees and building occupants, and to remain OSHA compliant. Failing to remain OSHA compliant can result in penalties, including fines over $13,000 per violation.

How To Read A Safety Data Sheet 

As a custodian or someone who handles chemicals in a facility, you should take the time to read and understand a SDS sheet any time a new chemical is brought into a cleaning procedure. It is also important to review a SDS sheet when you start a new assignment with commercial cleaning supplies that you have never used before.

Safety Data Sheets will provide information on how to protect yourself from potential adverse health effects, how to correctly handle the chemical, avoid possible dangers, properly dispose of the chemical, and more.

It is critical to the safety of yourself and building occupants to handle chemicals with caution and follow the proper protocols.

Reading the entire SDS sheet can help avoid accidents and potential injuries from improper chemical usage. 

All SDS sheets have 16 sections. Each will be labeled with the following headers:

Section 1. Identification

ghs hazards pictogram

Section 2. Hazard(s) Identification

Section 4. First-Aid Measures

Section 3. Composition/Information on Ingredients

Section 5. Fire-Fighting Measures

Section 6. Accidental Release Measures

Section 7. Handling and Storage

Section 8. Exposure Controls/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. Other Information

Although all 16 sections are important to read and understand, the information below clarifies the sections that are important to understand before, during, and after using a hazardous product.


Before handling a product you should be aware of the risks associated with the product and what necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) is needed to protect yourself.

To find an overview of the main hazards associated with using the chemical, reference Section 2, Hazard(s) Identification. This SDS section outlines possible hazards when working with the chemical.

personal protective equipment

PPE is needed to prevent injury or illness from accidental exposure to the chemical. Section 8, Exposure Controls/Personal Protection, lists the necessary equipment for handling the chemical properly. PPE that may be recommended can include: safety goggles, impervious gloves, respirator, or enclosed footwear.

Proper Product Use and Storage 

For information about using and storing a product, you should reference Section 7, Handling and Storage. This section will tell you what chemicals, if any, can be used with the product, how to minimize the release of the chemical into the environment, and provide advice on general hygiene practices. For example, you should not eat or drink near toxic chemicals to avoid accidental ingestion. Smoking in work areas near flammable chemicals is also prohibited.

This section will also give recommendations on how to safely store the product when you are not using it. Some products will have certain temperature and ventilation requirements.

Accident or Injury 

first aid

Sometimes injury or illness will occur, and it is critical that initial care follows the recommended guidelines. Section 4, First-Aid Measures, describes the symptoms or effects a person may experience from being exposed to the chemical. This section also provides the necessary first-aid instructions for each type of possible exposure.

Product Disposal 

After using a product, some commercial cleaning supplies will need to be disposed of in a particular way. Section 13. Disposal Considerations, will provide specific guidelines on how and where they can be properly disposed.

For more information on Safety Data Sheets, visit OSHA.

Final Thoughts

Safety Data Sheets provide the starting point for understanding how to properly prepare, use, and store commercial cleaning supplies.

It is important to read and understand the Safety Data Sheet for each chemical before use.

Up-to-date Safety Data Sheets need to be provided in visible and easily accessible areas for all hazardous chemicals. Adhering to OSHA guidelines will help ensure employees are following the proper product application and procedures for chemical usage to reduce accidental employee and occupant injury and increase building cleanliness.

Imperial Dade can help you understand the importance of having Safety Data Sheets on hand for your commercial cleaning chemicals to keep you, your janitorial staff, and your occupants safe.

If you’re located in the United States, Puerto Rico, or the Caribbean, contact an Imperial Dade Specialist for more information on how to use safety data sheets for the chemicals you use in your facility’s cleaning program to keep the people in your building safe.