oil and gas worker“How does your SDS help in an emergency?”

    This question will have passed through the mind of many employees when they first hear of the safety Data Sheet (SDS) document, which is now a key resource in the fight for safer workplaces across North America. Almost every manufacturing or industrial facility across the continent will now feature SDSs (former MDSDs), which are the go-to documents for safety procedures in the case of an emergency situation.

    However, while SDSs are designed to be easily understood and provide easy-to-understand direction, they are not entirely simple documents. Possessing a working knowledge of the layout and sectional divisions in an SDS can drastically improve the effectiveness of these documents and your ability to respond to or prevent safety issues.

    This article will seek to explore and break down some of the key sections of an SDS, providing insight into the reasons behind their composition. Read on for a more rounded understanding of this crucial document.

    Safety data sheets (SDS) are rich in information and provide essential knowledge pertaining to the product they accompany.

    • Each section of SDS has important information, useful in safe use, storage, and appropriate responses in specific situations.
    • NB – This article will focus on the requirements according to UN GHS (Globally Harmonized System) and doesn't cover specific details about differences between regulatory bodies (i.e. CLP, HazCom 2012, WHMIS 2015…)

    An inherent risk of working with hazardous materials is the possibility of an emergency situation where very specific actions are required to respond to the hazards presented by the material. Knowing where to find this information in your SDSs is crucial. Unprotected exposure, fires, and accidental releases are all emergency situations which require specific responses that are geared towards a product and its hazards. This information can in found in the following 3 sections of a GHS Safety Data Sheet:

    • Section 4. First-aid measures
    • Section 5. Fire-fighting measures
    • Section 6. Accidental release measures

    Section 4. First-Aid Measures

    first aid kitThis section provides the necessary information for an untrained first responder to be able to provide initial care to a person directly exposed to the product. This section contains a description of the necessary first-aid measures, the symptoms and effects to look out for, plus information on special treatment which may be required.

    The description of necessary first-aid measures includes instructions for the appropriate first-aid procedures for each type (or route) of exposure, including inhalation, skin contact, eye contact and ingestion. These procedures will list recommendations on when to seek medical attention (i.e. immediately, or when symptoms arise), whether or not the exposed individual should be moved to fresh air, details on recommended equipment for first-aid responders (if any), and how clothing and shoes should be handled or removed. The description of these first-aid measures is meant to allow lay-people to help anyone who has been exposed to the product, and determine how urgent medical attention is in a given situation. The help provided should not be seen as a substitute for medical attention, but will make sure to help stabilize a situation before professional medical assistance is available.

    Important symptoms and effects will also be described in this section, listing signs to look out for that would indicate that an individual has been exposed to the product. In cases where exposure is suspected, these symptoms and effects are good indicators of what to look for prior to seeking medical advice.

    Finally, this section includes any relevant information for immediate or specific treatment that is required following exposure to the product. This category will direct medical professionals towards the best course of action to treat injuries and effects resulting from exposure.

    Section 5. Fire-fighting Measures

    firefighterThis section provides the necessary information for fire-fighters when a fire is caused by this product or when a fire breaks out in proximity to this product. This section lists adequate and inadequate extinguishing materials (or “media”), specific hazards to look out for as a result of this product being involved in a fire, and any specific procedures and actions to be taken when fighting such a fire.

    In the event of a fire involving the product or in its vicinity, any recommended means to fight the fire are listed in the “Suitable Extinguishing Media” category. If there are any inappropriate media, they will be listed in the following category “Unsuitable Extinguishing Media”.

    These suitable and unsuitable extinguishing media are based on the properties of the product and any interaction these products may have with typical extinguishing media, allowing personnel to properly select the media for fighting the fire without exacerbating the situation. For example, to fight a fire which involves a flammable product that is immiscible with water and has a lower density than water, a direct stream of water would be an unsuitable extinguishing medium because it could cause the fire to spread, by spreading the product on the resulting accumulated water.

    Any hazard that might result from the product being involved in a fire is also reported in this section, such has hazardous combustion products, or flashfire hazards. This information will allow fire-fighters to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and any surrounding personnel from additional hazards caused by the product in the case of a fire.

    Finally, this section will also list recommended actions to be taken by the fire-fighters and recommended equipment to be worn to fight a fire involving the product. These actions could keeping surrounding containers cool with water spray to stop them from bursting while the listed equipment would include recommendations to avoid specific hazards posed by the product.

    All the information in this section allows the fire-fighters to properly prepare for fires in areas where this product is being stored or used. That's what makes it vital to be using an SDS management system which allows you to share SDSs with emergency responders on demand. The faster you can get an SDS to a fire fighter or medical responder, the better - and this often means having a digital version on a mobile device on the scene rather than trying to find the paper copy during an emergency, 

    Section 6. Accidental Release Measures

    water management, pipesThis section provides the necessary information regarding the procedure to follow in the case of an accidental release of the product. This section lists precautions to be taken (personal and environmental), protective equipment to use, the emergency procedure, and methods and materials to be used to contain or clean-up in the event of a spill or release of the product.

    The precautions, equipment, and procedures listed in the “Personal precautions, protective equipment and emergency procedures” category inform the user as to the safest way to handle a spill or release of the product. This information includes actions to be taken and personal protective equipment to be worn to avoid exposure, and a recommended procedure in case of a spill to ensure everyone’s safety.

    The “Environmental precautions” category will list any recommended action to prevent the release of the product to the environment and contamination of water sources and soil. This allows the user to take the necessary steps to help preserve the local environment in the event of a major spill.

    The “Methods and Materials for Containment and Cleaning-Up” category will describe the procedure and tools required to safely contain the spill or release, and clean-up afterwards. This information helps responders ensure that the spill or release can be effectively contained, to stop it from reaching the environment or creating issue by propagating to unsafe areas. This also ensures that the clean-up procedure is thorough and results in a safe work environment in the area of the accidental release or spill.


    risk management white helmetA firm understanding of the different sections of an SDS is an essential part of an overall Health and Safety strategy, with training providing an extremely important role.

    Did you know ERA Environmental offer fully comprehensive SDS Authoring and SDS Management modules, as well as an integrated training module? Our 20+ years of experience and our extensive team of Health & Safety regulatory experts help to inform our solutions, which are applicable to a broad range of businesses and industry segments.

    For more information, please feel free to request a free, no-obligation demo via the button below. We would be happy to set up a demo at a time that in most convenient to you.

    On-Demand Webinar: SDS Authoring Best Practices

    Want to learn more about what goes in to each section of an SDS and how the information plays a vital role in preventing injuries and mitigating risk? ERA is providing an on-demand free webinar that will give you a deep-dive into SDS sections, SDS authoring, and how it all relates to Health & Safety compliance.

    1. Differences between OSHA, CLP, and WHMIS
    2. Dos and Don'ts for SDS Authoring
    3. How to keep up with changing GHS standards around the world.

    Click the button below to access the on-demand SDS webinar.

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    Francis Haley
    Post by Francis Haley
    August 28, 2017
    Francis is a GHS Regulatory Specialist at ERA and he works as a Project Manager and Analyst.