Safety Data Sheets - Guidelines

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1. Purpose and Objectives

This guideline outlines the legislative requirement involving the keeping and accessing of Safety Data Sheets for hazardous substances.

2. Definition, Terms, Acronyms

Chemwatch - an electronic database of Safety Data Sheets

SDS - Safety Data Sheet

CAS Number - Chemical Abstract Service Number

3. Guideline Scope/Coverage

This guideline applies to all workers and all students who handle chemicals at The University of Queensland. It is a requirement of current legislation that Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) are available for all hazardous substances in the workplace, and are referred to in order to understand the risks associated with those hazardous substances. This guideline explains safety data sheets in detail.

4. Guideline Statement

All organisational units have a responsibility to ensure that Safety Data Sheets are available and accessible for hazardous substances in their area. This guideline will aid UQ staff and students to understand their obligations and to apply the recommended protocols. The University provides the services of Chemwatch so that SDS's may be accessed electronically by any UQ staff member or student.

5. Requirements for Manufacturers and Suppliers

Part 7.1 Hazardous Chemicals of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 places obligations on manufacturers, suppliers and persons in control of workplaces to supply, hold and allow worker access to safety data sheets. The manufacturer or importer of a substance must prepare an SDS and provide it to the user on the first occasion of supply. In addition, a manufacturer must prepare a new SDS when significant new information becomes available on the substance.

6. Access to Safety Data Sheets

Access to an SDS can be provided in several ways including:

  • A hard-copy provided by the supplier of the chemical;
  • Electronic SDS databases via a personal computer or internet; and
  • Paper and microfiche copy collections of the SDS with microfiche readers open to use by all workers.

Within UQ, SDS information on most chemicals can be obtained by accessing Chemwatch on the University network.

If an SDS is not available through Chemwatch, and chemical purchasers do not already have an SDS for the material, they should include with their order a specific request for an SDS. It is important that safety data sheets are available to all workers. SDSs are available in a couple of formats, including the full SDS with extended detail, as well as a summary format that highlights key information. In some cases the summary form of the SDS is found preferable for general use where a quick reference is required, whilst the more detailed SDS is best to use whilst considering your risk assessments.

7. The Role of a Safety Data Sheet

The primary role of a Safety Data Sheet is to supply information about a chemical or hazardous substance, including regulatory requirements, control measures and clean-up and disposal measures, so that the user can make a determine how to safely handle with that substance. Some information in an SDS will be more applicable to the laboratory environment, whilst others are more applicable to an industrial setting. 

An SDS can be used for the following purposes:

  • It should first be used to ensure that the product is being used as intended by the manufacturer or importer. Other use may be possible, but particular care should be taken when the product is being put to a ‘new’ use - it may give rise to unforeseen hazards;
  • It is the key tool for risk assessment as it includes detailed hazard information including storage incompatibilities, but it must be interpreted in regard to the specific usage conditions, e.g. lab use where quantities are small and high order controls are used to control exposure;
  • The options for appropriate controls included in the SDS may be utilised for the design and improvement of control measures and procedures;
  • Workplace monitoring and health surveillance strategies may often be based on advice contained in the SDS;
  • Sufficient information should be provided to select the necessary safety equipment and to develop necessary emergency procedures;
  • The SDS may be used as the basis of a training program for workers as it covers hazards, precautions and emergency procedures.

8. Information Provided in a Safety Data Sheet

A wide range of information is provided in an SDS. It is the most comprehensive source of information available to a chemical user.

8.1 Identification information

The name of the product is clearly specified together with classifications appropriate to the product - United Nations substance number, dangerous goods class and subsidiary risk, hazardous substance status, poisons schedule etc.

The manufacturer’s or importer’s name, address and telephone number is provided, often with a 24 hour-a-day telephone contact for emergencies.

The name (and CAS number) of hazardous ingredients is given together with their approximate proportion in the product composition.

8.2 Specific chemical properties

A wide range of specific chemical and physical properties are listed:

  • Boiling point and vapour pressure, which give an indication of the potential to generate significant vapour concentrations. Low boiling point and high vapour pressure materials will generate higher vapour concentrations at ambient conditions;
  • Vapour density (VD) - the ratio of the density of the vapour to that of air. This determines the behaviour of the gas or vapour in air. Substances with a VD < 1 will rise in air. Substances with VD >1 will tend to sink in air and flow along horizontal surfaces and down stairs drains etc;
  • Solubility of the substance in water and other solvents expressed in a variety of units (e.g. g/L) or descriptive terms (insoluble, dispersible, slight, partial, soluble, miscible);
  • Specific gravity of a liquid - the ratio of the density of the substance compared to that of water. This enables a determination of whether the substance will float on or sink in water;
  • The pH of the product gives an indication of acidity (if pH < 7) or alkalinity (if pH > 7).

Fire safety data such as:

  • Flammability range, the range of concentrations of fuel in air between the lower flammability limit (LFL) and the upper flammability limit (UFL), at which the material will burn;
  • Flash point (fp), the lowest temperature of a liquid at which the vapour above it can be ignited;
  • Auto-ignition temperature (AIT), the lowest temperature (of a potential ignition source) at which a flammable mixture in air can be ignited.

Other hazardous chemical reactivity - corrosiveness, oxidising properties, reactivity with common substances (e.g. air and water), tendency to spontaneous combustion or self-accelerating polymerisation, shock, or light sensitivity. This is important when considering storage locations.

8.3 Health hazard information

Information is included on the acute and chronic health effects of substances and the major routes of exposure (inhalation, ingestion, skin absorption, eye contact) and exposure limits. The result of any animal toxicity testing is provided, with particular emphasis on the potential for carcinogenic or reproductive hazards. First aid instructions and advice for the medical practitioner are given.

8.4 Precautions for use

The relevant workplace exposure standards are supplied for use in the planning of workplace controls. Specific engineering controls such as ventilation are set out. Personal protective equipment recommendations are given where applicable. Specific recommendations are provided for the prevention of fire and explosion.

8.5 Safe handling information

Information is provided in SDS's on procedures for the safe storage and transport of the substance including any special requirements, codes or restrictions which apply. Recommendations are outlined for clean-up of spillage and disposal of waste. Fire-fighting methods and associated protective equipment are specified.

8.6 International Suppliers

In accordance with Schedule 7 of the Queensland Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011, Safety Data Sheets must contain certain information included under set headings. SDS's provided by international suppliers may not be complaint with Australian legislation and will require the purchaser to obtain or generate an appropriate version.

8.7 Other information

The SDS includes a range of other information including environmental data, references and emergency contact points.

9. Contact for Further Information

OHS Division Occupational Hygiene Advisors:

Director, Health, Safety and Wellness Mr Jim Carmichael
Director, Health, Safety and Wellness Mr Jim Carmichael