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The Importance of Safety Data Sheets

Published June 21, 2021 (last updated May 24, 2023) - Head of Health and Safety
employer putting on safety data sheet

Does your workplace contain hazardous chemicals? If it does you may need to ensure you have a document accompanying the hazardous chemical providing key information, allowing you to manage any workplace health and safety risks. This document is called a safety data sheet (SDS) and it should be provided freely by the supplier of the chemical. 

A SDS should display information about the chemical, its contents, the hazards it poses, how to handle, transport and store it, and procedures to follow in case of an emergency spill, or incorrect handling or storage. 

The model Code of Practice for the Preparation of Safety Data Sheets for Hazardous Chemicals provides a certain way that manufacturers and importers of hazardous chemicals must prepare a correct SDS. If a SDS doesn’t meet this criteria, then it may not comply with workplace health and safety (WHS) legislation. 

Which Chemicals need a SDS? 

Almost every hazardous chemical requires a SDS. While there is no exhaustive list of chemicals that do require a SDS – there are just too many to mention – the Code of Practice contains a definition of reference. 

There are also many circumstances to when a hazardous chemical does not necessarily require a SDS. Some examples provided by Safe Work Australia include: 

  • Fuel that is in a container fitted to the vehicle, that is intended to be used by the same vehicle 
  • Food and beverages intended for human consumption 
  • Tobacco and tobacco products 
  • Hazardous chemicals contained in portable fire-fighting or medical equipment for use at a workplace 

You may need expert help to ascertain whether a chemical requires a SDS or not. 

What information needs to be in a SDS? 

A SDS needs to provide the following information:  

  • The product’s name, ingredients and properties 
  • The name, Australian address and telephone number of the business that made or imported the chemical 
  • How it can affect one’s health, and initial first aid measures in case of an incident 
  • How to use it safely, and information on how to respond to an emergency if the chemical is unintentionally released 
  • How to store it safely 
  • The last time the SDS was reviewed (usually every five years). 

A SDS must be written using clear and precise English, and the information must be presented under 16 specific headings and use metric (also known as SI) measurements. There is also no minimum or maximum length of a SDS – it should be a long as it needs to be to adequately describe the properties of the chemical and any best practices. 

The SDS also needs to be applicable to the nature of and hazards present in your workplace. 

Under Work Health and Safety Regulations a register of hazardous chemicals used, handled or stored at the workplace must be prepared and kept up-to-date at the workplace and must also include the current SDS for each of these chemicals.  

This register must be readily available to all workers who use or may be affected by the chemicals at the workplace. 

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About Employsure

Employsure is one of Australia’s largest workplace relations advisers to small- and medium-businesses, with over 30,000 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I use information prepared overseas?

    Information or a SDS prepared overseas can only be used if it meets Australian standards as outlined in the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), which is a global method of classifying chemicals and preparing labels and SDS. The GHS is the basis of the system used for preparing labels and SDS in Australia. It is unlikely that information prepared overseas will meet Australian standards unless the SDS has the business and contact details of the Australian importer or manufacturer. 

  • How often do I have to review a SDS?

    SDSs require a review every five years from the original date of preparation. A SDS needs to be amended whenever any new information about the chemical makes the SDS out-of-date, such as a change to its makeup or after an incident with the chemical.  

  • Where can I get help with creating or reviewing a SDS? 

    Employsure can help you understand if a chemical needs a SDS, and provide you templates to help you work towards meeting your obligations.  

    BrightSafe can also help you store and review your SDSs. 

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