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Do I Need to Update my Safety Data Sheets?

Written by: Rob Hallsworth

Published on: 13 March 2019

Updated Dec. 14, 2022

Old, Expired Safety Data Sheet

Update safety data sheets every time there’s significant new data

Workplace safety pros know that they must keep safety data sheets (SDSs) up to date to comply with WHMIS regulations.

But since the introduction of WHMIS 2015, how do you know when to update your sheets?

Under the old WHMIS 1988 regulations, time was the key – safety data sheets had to be updated every three years. That requirement changed with the introduction of WHMIS 2015.

WHMIS 2015 requirements for SDS updates

Occupational health and safety is regulated at the federal and provincial/territorial levels in Canada; therefore, requirements for updating or replacing SDSs may also vary by jurisdiction.

WHMIS 2015 legislation typically states that employers are required to update the most recent supplier SDS at the workplace as soon as practicable every time significant new data about a product is provided by the supplier, or becomes available to the employer in some other way.

The Province of Ontario’s guide to WHMIS legislation cites the following about updating SDSs:

  • Under federal law, it is the supplier’s responsibility to ensure that the SDS for a hazardous product is current and complies with all applicable requirements every time the product is sold.
  • Suppliers are not required to inform past buyers of a hazardous product that significant new data is available.
  • “Significant new data” means information about a product that would change its classification … or change the ways to handle the product safely.

See a summary of WHMIS regulations by province/territory.

How to tackle SDS updates

The three-year rule under WHMIS 1988 made it clear when a material safety data sheet (MSDS) update was required. While it was easy to understand, the time and effort to update the MSDSs every three years was more than most organizations could handle.

With WHMIS 2015, SDSs do not expire, which can save you the time and the expense of updating SDSs that have no significant changes. However, if a supplier does not inform you of a change, you likely will not know an SDS should be updated.

This can be a huge but necessary challenge for workplaces with hundreds – or even thousands – of SDSs. If a worker has an urgent need to find an SDS, a well-organized, up-to-date collection can mean the difference between life and death.

But you don’t have the time to sit down and tackle all of your SDSs  at once. So how would you eat this elephant? One bite at a time!

Here are 3 strategies to get started:

Strategy #1: Check for duplicate safety data sheets

The easiest way to reduce the work of updating SDSs is to examine your SDS collection for duplicate sheets. Often a workplace will have multiple copies of SDSs for the same product with the same product code from the same supplier. Get rid of the extras. It’s easy to merge two, three, four or more SDSs into one using SDS RiskAssist. Plus you can also combine your data on location and inventory into that one SDS.

We recently onboarded a client who had 2,731 sheets. Within hours of the onboarding the number of sheets was reduced to 1,736 by merging duplicates – a 26% reduction. Now that’s a time saver!

Eliminating duplicate sheets allows you to focus your attention on the remaining active sheets in your collection.

Strategy #2: Look for old safety data sheets, including any MSDSs, to update or eliminate

To stay on top of safety data sheet updates, it’s important to track your sheets by date and format. Look for any MSDSs in your collection. The term MSDS was updated to SDS when WHMIS 2015 was introduced.

MSDSs were required to be replaced by 2018. If you still have them in your collection you need to see if the product is still in use. The same is true in general for older sheets. Under Section 14.3(2) of the Hazardous Products Act, suppliers in Canada are only required to provide SDSs for six years after they stop providing the product. Therefore, we also suggest looking at sheets that are more than seven years old to ensure the product is still in use. Archive obsolete SDSs and replace MSDSs and older SDSs as soon as possible.

A cautionary tale: the case of the 35-year-old MSDS

When onboarding a new client, we found their oldest MSDS was for sodium hypochlorite and it was dated January 30, 1987. That sheet was 35 years old!

It started out as a paper sheet in a binder. At some point it was converted to a pdf and for the last 10 years it was hosted by a series of online SDS management providers. Over those 10 years our new client paid their previous SDS providers $60 to have quick access to an obsolete document.  What they didn’t get was:

  • An updated version of the sheet
  • Notification that they had an old sheet that maybe wasn’t required
  • Insight into the hazards, ingredients or control measures on protecting employees

What’s worse is we discovered they had 350 sheets that were more than 10 years old. They had paid $21,000 for nothing!

Strategy #3: Update sheets by target dates

With SDS RiskAssist we set a target date for when each sheet should be checked for an update. We can do this because we are the only SDS management software that maintains data on how frequently suppliers update their sheets and whether the SDS has significant new data. That data gives you the ability to prioritize what products you should check first for updates.

One supplier we see in the marketplace has SDSs for their products on their website dated 2015-2017. Why would you bother routinely checking these after three years and then every year thereafter when the dates haven’t changed? Our data also show that a different supplier regularly updates their sheets every three years and half the time has significant differences. They require a different level of attention.

You can also link to supplier websites directly from our dashboard to speed up the process of replacing your SDSs using the supplier’s URLs or pdfs, while copying any of data you have added to the old sheet to the new one and then archiving the old sheets (again with date stamps).

Archiving safety data sheets

We recommend archiving SDSs that you don’t need. System administrators can still access them if required but they are not visible to other users. As a side note, you should not have to pay your SDS management provider to store documents that people don’t access and that are not being actively managed. SDS RiskAssist doesn’t charge you for archived sheets. Archived sheets are like a safety net – the SDSs are there if you need them, (with date stamps as to when they were archived), but they are not your main focus.

SDS RiskAssist makes chemical safety a snap

SDS RiskAssist makes it easy to tackle the huge job of keeping SDSs up to date by allowing you to sort your collection by hazard, date, format, supplier, last update and other criteria. That way you can prioritize your work to ensure you are in compliance with WHMIS regulations.

Also see our complete Guide to SDS Management.

Please contact us if you have any more questions about the requirements to update your safety data sheets.

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SDS RiskAssist an Ontario-based company that uses the power of technology to give employers control and understanding over the otherwise pervasive and worrisome use of chemicals. SDS RiskAssist enables workers to know why chemicals are being used, what their benefits and hazards are and how to use them safely! Workers can access this knowledge via mobile or desktop SafetySnaps™, from anywhere in the world. SDS RiskAssist is the winner for 5 years running, of Readers’ Choice Awards by Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine (2018-2022); the 2019 Innovation Guelph Startup of the Year Award; the 2019 Quinte Business Achievement Award (Trailblazer category) and The Ottawa Network’s 2020 Bootstrap Award (SaaS category). We support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, working with our clients to take action for a sustainable planet.

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