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What is the Difference Between MSDS and SDS?

Are you a bit confused about the documentation you need to include when moving hazardous materials? Or are you not sure what sort of documentation has been provided to you?

If you’ve answered yes to either of these questions, then chances are you have also asked a third question: What is the difference between MSDS and SDS?

MSDS and SDS are both documents that accompany hazardous chemicals. But there are some key differences between them. 

These differences are not superficial. They can have impacts on business relations as well as create legal issues. So, it’s best to really wrap your head around the differences between the two. 

Let’s dive straight in then and check out what SDS and MSDS are, as well as how they are different from one another.

What Is MSDS?

MSDS stands for material safety data sheet. The datasheet is a document that is usually very long and outlines the safety concerns associated with hazardous materials.

When hazardous materials are moved from one place to another, an MSDS document is sent with them. Sometimes, the document is also sent in advance. 

The main purpose of an MSDS is to inform the receiver of the hazardous material exactly what precautions they need to take in handling it. It is important that MSDS documents are prepared properly to avoid legal issues.

The type of legal issues associated with MSDS documents may involve both civil and criminal law. If the MSDS is improper, you may be in breach of government regulations. 

Even worse, if someone is harmed by the hazardous materials, a lawsuit may be brought. If it can be shown that the MSDS was not properly written, you may have to pay a lot of money in damages to the injured party. 

You can use an MSDS database to see what documents have already been published for specific hazardous materials. This is useful in creating new MSDS documents, or when dealing with chemicals yourself. 

What Is SDS?

SDS stands for safety data sheets. It is somewhat confusing to work out the difference between SDS and MSDS because their names are so similar. 

SDS is basically an updated version of the MSDS. The reason for the update was that the old MSDS documents could be quite different from one another. 

The idea of the SDS is to have a uniform set of standards that companies adhere to around the world. Any SDS document must follow a step-by-step order of headings. 

The major benefit of this is that safety communication has become standardized. Also, there is greater accountability in the process of using and moving hazardous materials.

The SDS was created according to specific guidelines laid out by the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). It has now been adopted by the United States’ Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). 

What’s In an SDS?

Any SDS must follow 16 specific sections. They must also be presented in the correct order using the exact headings specified by GHS. 

The 16 sections of the SDS are:

  1. Identification
  • The name of the hazardous material

Hazard identification

  • Any hazards related to the particular material

Composition/ information on ingredients

  • The specific chemical ingredients

First-aid measures

  • Particular measures relevant to the hazards

Fire-fighting measures

  • The correct response in the event of a fire hazard (e.g. some chemical fires will not respond to water)

Accidental release measures

  • Guidance on recollecting spilled materials (i.e. when released in open water)

Handling and storage

  • Specific requirements (i.e. sunlight, temperature, etc.)

Exposure controls/ personal protection

  • Necessary equipment to handle the material (i.e. gloves, glasses, etc.)

Physical and chemical properties 

  • Properties such as acidity, odor, viscosity, etc.

Stability and reactivity

  • Known chemical interactions (i.e. oxygen or hydrogen)

Toxicological information

  • Human response to ingestion and other exposure

Ecological information

  • Environmental risks

Disposal considerations

  • Where and how the material can be disposed of

Transport information

  • Guidance on modes of transportation and related concerns

Regulatory information

  • Regulations from relevant jurisdictions

Other information

  • All other necessary information to prevent and mitigate the hazard

Not all hazardous materials will be applicable to some of these heading. However, according to SDS guidelines, all headings must be included anyway. 

Since the SDS is formal and uniform, there is SDS software available to help create and store SDS sheets. SDS documents can also be found on SDS/MSDS databases. 

What Is the Difference Between MSDS and SDS?

The most important difference between an MSDS and SDS is uniformity. Under the MSDS system, there were a number of templates that could be used. The simple development of the SDS is that there is only one template. 

It is actually possible that an MSDS was created that satisfied the criteria of an SDS. So, in effect, an SDS is really just a particular type of MSDS. 

The other major difference between an SDS and an MSDS is their legal implications. An SDS is a safer document to use because it adheres to all of the major regulations on hazardous material.

If you want to learn more about when an SDS is specifically required, check out this article from

So, an SDS and an MSDS are more or less the same things, but an SDS will always contain the same information and adheres to international standards and regulations. 

Know Your SDS/MSDS Rights and Responsibilities

You should now know the answer to the question ‘What is the difference between MSDS and SDS?’ But now you really need to spend the time getting to know your datasheets.

This is important whether you are sending or receiving hazardous materials. Seeing an SDS will give you confidence in dealing with the material. But you also need to make sure that if you are sending hazardous materials that you follow the SDS guidelines clearly. 

You have both rights and responsibilities surrounding hazardous materials. So, don’t take chances. Get to know the SDS guidelines back to front and stay safe!

If you have found this information useful, why not read up on some other tech developments with our great selection of articles?

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