How To Read A Safety Data Sheet

by Kate Onissiphorou

Although they may look complicated, safety data sheets (SDS) are actually quite straightforward to read because they’re divided into different sections. However, you may need some basic chemistry knowledge to understand some of the more technical information they contain.

Safety data sheets – also known as material safety data sheets (MSDS) or product safety data sheets – are included in the chemical’s packaging. They can also be downloaded from the manufacturer’s website. 

You can access the safety data sheets for all of the chemicals we supply here.

What is a safety data sheet?

A safety data sheet is a detailed technical document that provides information about the hazards posed by the particular chemical it refers to. It also contains instructions on how to store, handle, and use the chemical correctly. 

An SDS is more detailed than the chemical label that appears on the container and is usually several pages long. New standardised safety data sheets are divided into 16 key sections, with each one covering a specific topic.

How to read a safety data sheet

safety data sheet acetic acidReading a safety data sheet is not as difficult or as complicated as reading a chemistry technical paper. Nonetheless, some parts of an SDS may require a technical background or, at the very least, careful perusal. 

While the exact content may vary slightly depending on the chemical manufacturer, all safety data sheets must contain the same basic information. This includes the following:

  • The chemical composition and ingredients
  • The potential hazards (or lack thereof)
  • The health effects following exposure
  • The statutory and technical limits of exposure
  • The physical properties of the chemical, for example, viscosity
  • How to mitigate the product’s harmful effects.

Below are some of the basic sections that a safety data sheet should contain.

chemical bottle with toxic label

Material Identification All safety data sheets must state the name of the product and the manufacturer’s contact details, including their full address and emergency telephone numbers.

Hazardous ingredients – This section should include the specific chemical identity of any hazardous ingredients. Exactly which chemicals must be listed as hazardous depends on the jurisdiction.

Physical and chemical properties – The product’s physical and chemical properties, such as the odour, colour, state of matter, reactivity, and other pertinent information, must be included in this section.

Potential fire or explosive information – This section must indicate whether there’s a high or low probability of the chemical catching fire or exploding. There should be clear precautionary instructions regarding the product’s maximum ignition threshold temperature.

Chemical reactivity – Although details about the chemical’s reactivity can be covered in the chemical properties section, it may be necessary to include a separate section to identify the various reactivity thresholds. The SDS should also specify the other chemicals that should not be mixed with the product.

Health hazard information – All safety data sheets must include information on the short-term (acute) and long-term (chronic) hazardous effects of the chemical. Routes of entry such as through the skin’s pores or inhalation must also be specified.

Handling and use protocols – This section contains information about how to store, use, and dispose of the chemical correctly. It must specify the type of container and personal protective equipment that should be used.

Safety control measures – An SDS usually includes a list of safety control measures that are designed to reduce or eliminate the potential hazards posed by the chemical. For example, it might recommend ventilation or a particular engineering design for the facility.

Why is it important to learn how to read a safety data sheet?

It’s important to learn how to read and understand a product’s safety data sheet for the following reasons:

  • It allows you to identify the product and learn how to use it properly
  • It helps you to recognise the hazards and take the necessary safety precautions
  • You can anticipate the dangers or consequences if the instructions aren’t followed
  • You’ll know the symptoms of exposure to the chemical
  • You’ll know the correct protocols to follow in case of an emergency

How often are safety data sheets updated?

According to the MSDS Europe website, there’s no expiration date on the validity of safety data sheets. However, this may vary depending on local regulations and other factors. 

Safety data sheets should be reviewed regularly and they must always be updated when new information about the product becomes available.


It’s essential to make sure you read and understand the contents of a safety data sheet before handling any kind of chemical. As well as learning how to use and dispose of the substance correctly, it will minimise the risks and help to keep you safe. 

Safety data sheets may vary slightly between manufacturers, but they should all contain information on the material’s identity, hazardous ingredients, physical and chemical properties, flammability, chemical reactivity, health hazards, usage protocols, and safety control measures.


The blog on and everything published on it is provided as an information resource only. The blog, its authors and affiliates accept no responsibility for any accident, injury or damage caused in part or directly from following the information provided on this website. We do not recommend using any chemical without first consulting the Material Safety Data Sheet which can be obtained from the manufacturer and following the safety advice and precautions on the product label. If you are in any doubt about health and safety issues please consult the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).