The Importance Of Material Safety Data Sheets

by Kate Onissiphorou

Material safety data sheets (MSDS) and safety data sheets (SDS) are important because they alert workers and end users to the hazards posed by chemical products, thereby reducing the risk of workplace accidents and illnesses. MSDS and SDS documents provide detailed information about a chemical product’s composition and its potentially harmful effects, along with instructions on how to store, handle, and dispose of the substance safely.

Although many countries and economic zones like the EU have adopted the UN’s Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), not all countries are using the standardised SDS format. Some are still using the MSDS format, which can vary between countries and organisations.

Continue reading to learn more about the importance of material safety data sheets, what type of information they must include, and how they benefit workers and businesses.

Legal requirements for MSDS

Regional and global international treaties like the Chemicals Convention, 1990 (No. 170) of the International Labour Organisation state that material safety data sheets must be provided for certain types of chemical products. 

There are also national and local legal requirements, such as the UK REACH Regulation, that require hazardous chemical products to have a corresponding safety data sheet.

Regulatory & MSDS requirements

Not all chemical products require an MSDS or SDS – only those that are classed as hazardous or contain hazardous ingredients need one. Generally speaking, chemical products that contain a minimum of 1% hazardous content, or 0.1 carcinogenic content, must have an accompanying MSDS or SDS.

Penalties for non-compliance

The specific regulatory requirements and penalties for non-compliance can vary between countries and economic regions. For example, following Brexit, the UK (England, Wales, and Scotland) adapted the EU REACH (or registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals) and made its own regulation called UK REACH. The EU Reach and UK Reach regulations now operate independently from each other.

The penalties for violations or non-compliance depend on various factors such as the type of violation, the severity of the breach, and the type of court that hears the case. Penalties include the following:

  • Lower courts like magistrate courts can impose fines of up to £5,000 and/or up to three months imprisonment
  • Higher courts like crown courts can impose unlimited fines and/or up to two years imprisonment.

MSDS required content

Unlike UN-GHS standardised safety data sheets, the exact format of an MSDS can vary between chemical manufacturers. That being said, the two types of documents do share some commonalities when it comes to the required content.

Required information in a material safety data sheet

All safety data sheets have sixteen standard sections, some of which are also found in many MSDSs. These include the most important sections like hazard identification, composition or ingredients of the chemical product, and first aid measures in the event of exposure.

Breakdown of MSDS documents

MSDSs are designed to be read by both factory workers and the end users of the chemical product. They help to ensure anyone dealing with the substance knows exactly what type of hazardous ingredients it contains, how to handle it safely, and how to respond in the event of exposure or an emergency. 

Although an MSDS does contain some technical details, the pictograms mean it’s relatively easy to understand. You can learn more about how to read a material safety data sheet here.

MSDS best practices

Many industries have developed best practices by sharing information on material safety data sheets. Companies within the same industry typically develop their own practices through trial and error. Some best practices are also formally standardised through conventions.

Storage and accessibility of MSDS

A MSDS is normally enclosed in the product’s packaging but an electronic copy may also be attached to the order confirmation email. Alternatively, you can download it from the manufacturer’s website. 

You can access the safety data sheets for all of the chemicals we supply here. A chemical product’s MSDS must be stored in a place where it can be easily accessed by employees. Pile of three office ringbinders on a white background

Training employees on MSDS

Both new and long-term employees should receive regular training on the importance of MSDSs, especially if the company produces or uses several types of chemicals. They must understand the product’s composition, hazards and first aid measures, as well as other vital information contained in the MSDS. Not only is this important from a safety point of view, but it also helps to ensure the company’s operations run smoothly.

Updating and maintaining MSDS

MSDSs should be reviewed regularly although, in reality, they rarely need to be updated. This is because the chemical information doesn’t usually change unless there’s a new formulation or discovery. To help keep everyone safe, an MSDS should be reviewed every six months or whenever new information is published.

3 benefits of MSDS

MSDS documents are required by law because they help to keep employees and end users safe. They’re designed to act as reference material for handling, storing, and transporting hazardous chemicals properly. Some of the benefits of MSDSs are summarised below.

  1. Protecting workers’ health and safety
    Many types of chemical products, whether raw materials or finished products, have hazardous effects. They may lead to chronic or acute illnesses, for instance. Some are also carcinogenic, while others may cause a fire or explosion. The MSDS provides the right information to protect workers from such hazards. Understanding the nature of the dangers posed by a substance means people can wear the correct level of personal protective equipment and take precautions to keep themselves and others safe. Close-up side view of a scientist in protective suit looking at hazardous blue chemical
  2. Legal protection for businesses
    There are severe legal consequences for businesses and individuals that flout the strict rules and treaties that regulate hazardous chemicals. A business can be penalised by way of a fine, closure, and even the imprisonment of those responsible. MSDSs help to ensure businesses are compliant with the regulations, potentially protecting them against legal action.
  3. Reduction of workplace accidents and incidents
    Material safety data sheets are instrumental in reducing workplace accidents if they’re followed strictly and correctly. This translates to increased productivity and efficiency as workers are less likely to need time off due to work-related illness and injury. It also reduces the likelihood of litigation and employee compensation claims.


Material safety data sheets are very important because they alert workers and end users to the potential hazards posed by a particular chemical product. They also provide essential information on how to store, handle and dispose of hazardous substances correctly, as well as first aid measures in case of exposure. Not only does this help to prevent accidents and keep everyone safe, but it may also provide some legal protection for businesses.


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).