What your chemical safety data sheets should contain

Clear on what’s compliant? The 2023 EU Enforcement Forum might make your business take a closer look at what you’re including on your safety data sheets.

by Kamelija Milosev

Safety data sheets (SDSs) are the primary method for providing effective and comprehensive information to recipients of substances and mixtures throughout the EU. They’re critical to any business that manages chemicals. 

Whether you use hazardous chemicals in industrial or professional activities (in which case, your suppliers must usually provide you with a SDS containing the relevant information and appropriate risk management advice you need), or you supply substances or mixtures downstream (meaning you must communicate the same to your customers via your own SDS).  

Let’s unpack what makes safety data sheets so essential in the chemicals supply chain and, more importantly, what this critical document should contain. 

What’s the purpose of safety data sheets?

From a regulatory perspective, SDSs originate from the general requirements of Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 (REACH). Further adaptations were made to incorporate the rules for safety data sheets of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS), as well as the requirements of Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 (CLP).

The main aim of a safety data sheet is to provide users of chemicals with the necessary information to help them protect human health and the environment. To deliver on this aim, the SDS must contain, among other things: 

  • The composition details of the chemical, including a REACH registration number (if registered) and its main technical functions and uses. 
  • Information on hazard classifications, labeling, and exposure threshold values for human health and the environment. 
  • Advice for handling and storage, and exposure controls.  
  • Measures for first aid, firefighting, safe transportation, disposal, and emergencies. 
  • The basic physical and chemical properties of the substance or mixture) including information on stability and reactivity.

What should they include?

The SDS contains a lot of information, and to keep it organized and digestible, the document is broken down into 16 sections. Each section has various sub-sections depending on the substance in question and how you utilize it in your day-to-day operations.  

Quality over quantity in safety data sheets

Crafting an SDS is no small task, but it’s not just the quantity of information to be supplied that is important, but also, even more so, the quality of it. 

Prior enforcement projects by the EU-wide Enforcement Forum identified poor quality of the information in safety data sheets as a long-standing issue. In their 2013 project, up to 52 % of SDSs in use were found to be deficient. Member State authorities have further echoed this concern, noting that the issue persists.  

 Considering the criticality of such information for both employees and the environment alike, it’s no surprise that this year’s EU-wide Enforcement Forum’s compliance check project will be looking at the quality of the information in safety data sheets.  

The 2023 EU-wide safety data sheet compliance sweep

If the mention of the Enforcement Forum does not ring any bells, consider yourself one of the fortunate few. To those more familiar with the Forum’s projects, it may potentially bring about less pleasant memories.  

This is because the Enforcements Forum’s main purpose is to supervise the enforcement of REACH, CLP, PIC, POP, and Biocidal regulations in the EU, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein, specifically through organizing detailed compliance checks. The Forum comprises one representative from each EU member state and coordinates the various implementation projects, such as the REACH-EN-FORCE (REF) projects.  

REF projects are designed to harmonize the enforcement of the abovementioned regulations and investigate the quality of national compliance with these regulations. REF projects are carried out by inspectors based in the national authorities of the EU member states. Upon completion of a project, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and the Enforcement Forum working group collect and assess the results, often providing follow-up guidance or recommendations on remedying key non-compliance issues.  

This year, the Enforcement Forum has set its sights on safety data sheets as part of its 2023 (REF-11) project. The project will check compliance with the revised requirements under Annex II to REACH, which sets the content and format required for safety data sheets.  

The revised content requirements entered into force in early 2023, and all EU SDSs created after 1 January 2023 must comply with the requirements. Additionally, any SDSs compiled according to the old Annex II requirements would have had to be rewritten to comply with the updated requirements before 31 December 2022.

Getting your safety data sheets in line

What are the odds of your business being included as part of this year’s compliance check target audience? If you manufacture or place products on the EU market, the odds might be higher than you think. Do not despair. There is still time to prepare, or at the very least, to strategically review your SDSs in line with the most commonly reported compliance issues.