A Pictogram's Worth a Thousand Words


There likely is not anyone who isn't familiar with an MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet). These documents have been around for almost 30 years. For those of us who have utilized these sheets throughout our careers, it was obvious that there were no standards from one sheet to the next. This made it very difficult - especially in emergency situations - to find information on the chemical or material in question. 

In 2012 OSHA updated the chemical labeling to align with the Globally Harmonized Systems of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, or GHS. The purpose was to transition from an MSDS with inconsistently placed information to the SDS (Safety Data Sheet) with a standardized format. 

Unlike MSDS, SDSs have 16 standard sections that do not change from chemical to chemical. The sections are always in the same order and have the important details you will need to know when working with chemicals on the job as well as at home. The sections are listed below in the order in which they appear on the SDS: 

  • Section 1: Identification of the Chemical. 

Product name and use, emergency phone numbers and restrictions 

  • Section 2: Hazard Identification. 

Chemical’s hazards and required labeling elements such as pictograms and hazardous elements 

  • Section 3: Composition/ Info on Ingredients. 

Chemical ingredients and info on possible trade secrets 

  • Section 4: First Aid Measures. 

Symptoms of chemical exposure and advised treatment 

  • Section 5: Fire Fighting Measure. 

Proper fire fighting techniques, which fire extinguishers to use, and any chemical hazards the fire may produce  

  • Section 6: Accidental Release Measures. 

Emergency procedures, protective equipment and method of cleanup in case of an accidental release 

  • Section 7: Handling and Storage. 

How to store and safely handle, lists any chemical incompatibilities 

  • Section 8: Exposure Control and Personal Protection Equipment. 

Permissible Exposure Limits (PEL), Threshold Limit Values (TVL), appropriate engineering controls and necessary PPE 

  • Section 9: Physical and Chemical Properties. 

Chemical’s  characteristics 

  • Section 10: Stability and Reactivity. 

Info on stability and potential for a reaction 

  • Section 11: Toxicological Info. 

Chemical exposure routes into the body, symptoms of exposure, acute and chronic effects and a numerical measure of toxicity  

Take time today to identify and locate the SDS (Safety Data Sheets). Review the SDS of the most common chemicals and materials you use during your day. Knowing is half the battle. 


For more important safety information, please read this edition of Wachs Weekly!