A Guide to SDS Management

Why do I need a guide to SDS Management?

Your workplace has hazardous chemical products that you are likely unaware of. The corresponding Safety Data Sheets for these products are filled with useful information for workplace safety. Properly managing those Safety Data Sheets is an important first step in becoming aware of the hazards and achieving chemical safety compliance.

A guide to SDS Management will give you a complete overview of Safety Data Sheets including the basics, commonly asked questions, industry best practices, and how you can use SDS RiskAssist to take your SDS Management to the next level. This guide is intended for a Canadian audience.

Safety Data Sheet Management is often a second thought in a workplace safety program and a missed opportunity when it comes to improving workplace chemical safety. Any organization can become a health and safety leader in their industry by taking a more proactive approach to chemical safety. Make sure you read to the end where there are some surprising statistics and tips on how to best manage the overwhelming (and useful) information found in your Safety Data Sheets.

Your Safety Data Sheets can empower your workplace once you unlock the gold mine of information within them. There are many cases where the hazardous products used in a workplace have safer alternatives! Try SDS RiskAssist today and discover how to make your workplace safer and healthier through better SDS Management.


The Roadmap

Road Map to SDS Management compliance with SDS RiskAssist

Your Guide Forward: In the following sections you will be taken through the SDS Management roadmap for success. If at any time you want to be taken back to the Shortcuts menu, click the green button labeled "Shortcuts Menu" on desktop or tablet screens.

The Basics

The first step of SDS Management is to determine if you require it. Since you're reading this guide it's safe to say that you do need it. Once you've confirmed this, it's important to learn about the basics of safety data sheets and the different regulations that need to be complied with.

In Practice

Now that you've mastered the basics of safety data sheets it's time to put the legislated requirements into action. In this section you will learn about your requirements to be in compliance with the law. This includes what procedures need to be in place and what actions are required on an ongoing basis.

The Specifics

At this point, it's time to get into the specific details of safety data sheets and their management. This section of the guide will provide further insight on what you need to know about SDSs in day to day operations.

Industry Best Practices

You're now in compliance and are looking to take your safety data sheet management to the next level. In this next section we'll be discussing industry best practices. We are experts in Chemical Safety and SDS Management at SDS RiskAssist and have seen what qualities enable companies to excel in their chemical safety programs.

SDS RiskAssist

Now that you're in compliance and have some of the best industry practices, it's time to introduce you to the way you can take your SDS Management to the next level. We like to think that our solution, SDS RiskAssist, is the best SDS Management system available and will tell you why.

The Basics

1.1 What is a safety data sheet (SDS)?

A safety data sheet, commonly shortened to its acronym "SDS", is a standardized summary document provided by a chemical supplier to provide information about the hazards, ingredients, storage and transport instructions, safety precautions, and more. Safety data sheets are the primary source of information about chemical hazards that exist in a workplace.

Read more about this topic is in an article SDS RiskAssist (formally Rillea) is featured in with Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine.

Example Safety Data Sheet

1.2 What is the difference between an MSDS and an SDS?

A material safety data sheet (MSDS) is the older version of the currently accepted safety data sheet (SDS). The information contained in an MSDS is limited and unstandardized as compared to an SDS. The development of SDSs requires suppliers to follow a rigorous process to ensure hazard information is presented in a consistent, user-friendly format. MSDS's were the standard in Canada until June 1, 2015. If you have MSDSs in your collection for products that are still in use and still being produced by a supplier, you are required to source an updated SDS immediately.

1.3 What is included in a SDS?

A standard SDS has 16 sections as outlined in WHMIS 2015 and the United Nations Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). Schedule 1 of the Hazardous Products Regulations (HPR) outlines the section numbers and headings that are required in Canada.

These sections include the following:

Section 1 – Identification: Product identifier, supplier or distributor name, address, phone number, emergency phone number, recommended use, and restrictions on use.

Section 2 – Hazard(s) identification: All chemical hazards and the required label elements.

Section 3 – Composition/Information on ingredients:  Hazardous chemical ingredients found in the product and any trade secret claims.

Section 4 – First-aid measures: First aid treatment information for exposure to the product and any symptoms of exposure.

Section 5 – Fire-fighting measures: Recommendations for extinguishing a fire involving the product and any hazards potentially created during combustion.

Section 6 – Accidental release measures: Procedure to follow in the event of a spill or release involving the product. 

Section 7 – Handling and storage:  Precautions for safe handling and storage. This includes incompatibilities.

Section 8 – Exposure controls/Personal protection:  Occupational exposure limits (OELs), threshold limit values (TLVs), appropriate engineering controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Section 9 – Physical and chemical properties:  The product's characteristics.

Section 10 – Stability and reactivity:  Stability of the product and possible hazardous reactions.

Section 11 – Toxicological information:  Routes of exposure (inhalation, ingestion, skin/eye contact or injection), symptoms, acute and chronic effects, and numerical measures of toxicity.

Section 12 – Ecological information:  Description on environmental effects and the duration.

Section 13 – Disposal considerations: Safety handling and disposal procedures.

Section 14 – Transportation information: Information on packing, labeling, and marking requirements for hazardous shipments.

Section 15 – Regulatory information: Any regulations that apply to product.

Section 16 – Other information: Any other information including preparation date or last revision.

1.4 What products require SDSs?

Every product that is classified as a "hazardous product" under WHMIS (see table in section 2.2 for applicable provincial/territorial legislation) that will be used, handled, or stored in a workplace must have a safety data sheet.

1.5 What is SDS Management?


SDS Management is the practice of organizing and sharing safety data sheets with employees, to be compliant with health and safety regulations. SDSs contain critical workplace safety information. This is why WHMIS regulations include the requirement to store SDSs so they are readily accessible to employees, keep SDSs up-to-date, train employees based on SDS information, and much more. Having a management system in place can enable you to take the sometimes overwhelming task of SDS Management and make it simple.

SDS Management systems in the past have typically involved a binder holding all of your SDSs. This method is cumbersome, difficult to control and intimidating for workers. A slightly better approach is to maintain SDSs on a shareable electronic or cloud platform. While the SDSs are easier to maintain, someone still has to read and summarize the critical workplace safety information, which is still intimidating – especially for workers.

The next generation SDS Management systems like SDS RiskAssist, use digital technology to automatically extract the critical information for you and summarize it in actionable ways. These systems enable employers to make real progress in workplace chemical safety,

1.6 Do I Need SDS Management?

Any workplace that handles or stores products defined as hazardous by the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) is required to have SDSs for those products in Canada. The workplace is required to have a method in place where employees are able to access the SDSs for chemicals they are exposed to in their work. This method is often referred to as SDS Management. There are different ways of managing SDSs which are discussed in the sections below. SDS RiskAssist is the next generation SDS Management software.

SDS Management alone is NOT enough to meet your compliance requirements under the regulations.

Hand holding phone displaying SafetySnap from SDS RiskAsssit SDS Management Software

In Practice

2.1 What do government regulations say about SDSs?

In Canada, hazardous chemicals are governed by Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS). This system is aligned with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) which is used globally. WHMIS is regulated in the workplace by the provinces, territories and federal (for federally regulated workplaces) governments under their occupational health and safety legislation. Depending on your jurisdiction there may be slight variations in the implementation of WHMIS 2015.

Discover the gap that exists between the intent of WHMIS and the on-the-ground reality by reading the White Paper – The WHMIS Gap.

Supplier requirements are regulated by federal legislation known as the the Hazardous Products Act and the Hazardous Products Regulations (HPR). However, chemical supplier-related laws are governed by Health Canada.

WHMIS: The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) Regulation was established under the Occupational Health and Safety Act in 1988. It is Canada's national hazard communication standard. The purpose of this regulation is to give employees, employers, and the public information about hazardous materials used in the workplace. In 2015, WHMIS was revised to align with GHS. WHMIS implementation can be difficult for employers to stay on top of due to the volume of information included in SDSs.

There are some hazardous substances that may be exempt from certain WHMIS requirements, including safety data sheets and labels. Generally this is because these substances are covered by different regulations. Some examples of these substances include:

  • Explosives (Explosives Act)
  • Cosmetics, devices, drugs or foods (Food and Drugs Act)
  • Pest control products (Pest Control Products Act)
  • Consumer products (Canada Consumer Product Safety Act)
  • Tobacco or tobacco products (Tobacco Act)
  • Nuclear substances (Nuclear Safety and Control Act)

HPR: The federal Hazardous Products Regulations (HPR) specifies the criteria for classifying hazards posed by chemical products and provides the requirements for product labels and safety data sheets. It came into effect in 2015 and replaced the Controlled Products Regulations of WHMIS 1988 under the authority of the Hazardous Products Act (HPA). The HPA requires suppliers of hazardous products to communicate those hazards with product labels and safety data sheets for workplace use. If a product meets the specified criteria to be included in a hazard class or category then it is considered a hazardous product. Once the product is considered hazardous it is covered under WHMIS 2015 regulations.

The key elements of the Hazardous Products Regulations according to the Government of Canada are:

  • Classification criteria for health hazards associated with hazardous products
  • Requirements for product labels to communicate the hazards of chemicals used in workplaces
  • Requirements for SDSs to provide more detailed information concerning the hazards of chemicals used in workplaces.

GHS: The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, usually shortened to Global Harmonizing System (GHS), is the United Nation’s global system of standardization and harmonization of chemical labelling, safety data sheets, and classification. The plan for worldwide implementation was adopted in 2002. GHS is non-binding and not a global law or regulation, but rather a system of recommendations. There is no obligation to adopt any or all of the GHS. In fact, only GHS elements that have been explicitly adopted by Canadian legislation are enforceable in Canada.

2.2 How often does an SDS need to be updated?

Although Canada's Hazardous Products Regulations requires suppliers to update their SDSs only if new information becomes available, occupational health and safety is regulated by each provincial/territorial jurisdiction in Canada. Therefore, your need to update your company's SDSs will depend on what jurisdiction(s) your business operates in. The following table summarizes the regulations by province/territory (note that laws are subject to change):

Most jurisdictions require an employer to update to the most recent supplier SDS at the workplace as soon as practicable after significant new data about a product is provided by the supplier, or becomes available to the employer in some other way. Significant new data means that the information about a hazardous product has changed and the product's classification or how you are protected from the product have been updated. The supplier of a hazardous product is still responsible for ensuring that the provided labels and safety data sheets are up to date, accurate, and compliant with Hazardous Product Regulations at the time of sale or import. Read more about updating safety data sheets in our blog post and learn how you can use SDS RiskAssist to know where to focus your updating process.

In jurisdictions that require updates every three years, many suppliers are adding "print dates" to their SDSs. This is the date that the SDS is downloaded from their website and indicates that on this date, the SDS was the latest version being made available by the supplier.