Comparing MSDS vs. SDS (Differences and Similarities)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 18, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Working in a safe workplace is one of the most important parts of feeling calm and productive. Material safety data sheets (MSDSs) and safety data sheets (SDSs) are two types of documents that can help people stay safe while on the job. Understanding how to write these forms and what they mean can help you avoid workplace accidents. In this article, we examine the definitions of MSDS vs. SDS, compare what makes them similar, and share their differences.

Comparing MSDS vs. SDS

If you want to know how you can prevent accidents and manage hazards at the workplace, you may benefit from comparing MSDS vs. SDS. Here are the definitions of these two concepts:

Material safety data sheets (MSDSs)

An MSDS is a document that helps make people aware of any potential dangers in a workplace and provides them with information on those dangers. The sheet provides information like what the dangerous item is and how to work safely with it. An MSDS helps ensure that everyone who may interact with the substance or item knows the risks and how to manage them. You always find an MSDS with any substance that Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) has control over at your workplace. An MSDS is specific to one product or material and includes the following information on it:

  • Product information, including name, supplier, manufacturer, and emergency phone numbers

  • Hazardous ingredients

  • Physical data

  • Fire or explosion data

  • Reactivity data, including chemical stability and reactive materials

  • Toxicological properties

  • Preventive measures

  • First-aid measures

  • Preparation information

Safety data sheets (SDSs)

SDSs are documents that summarize the hazards that you can associate with a particular product or material. Manufacturers are often responsible for creating these sheets and making sure that they give their clients the SDS. These sheets provide a significant amount of detail about the specific dangers that accompany each product, and what safety protocols may accompany these products. SDSs are important resources and work best when they're easily accessible to the employees. Having these sheets be easily accessible helps to ensure a safer and more accident-free workplace.

Similarities between MSDSs and SDSs

Listed below are many of the similarities between MSDSs and SDSs:

Both perform the same tasks

Both MSDSs and SDSs perform essentially the same task. They're both documents that give the user important information about a hazardous product. These documents help to ensure the safety of all employees. While these sheets have slightly different information, their function remains the same. Without them, users may expose themselves to dangerous chemicals without proper safety precautions or available first aid. While many products come with both versions of these sheets, both MSDSs and SDSs deliver similar information.

Both use the same kind of language

Both types of sheets use very similar language to describe the products and their risks. This is important because it helps to make them more understandable to the users; otherwise, the documents might be less accessible. The point of the sheets is to make the information widely available.

Having similar sheets that communicate the risks and safety steps similarly can help more people understand the crucial information they contain. For example, suppose that you start a new job that uses SDS sheets, while at your previous workplace you used MSDS sheets. Since both forms use the same terminology, you can continue to practise a high level of safety while learning your new job.

Related: How to Stay Organized and Why It's Important (With Tips)

Same materials use both sheets

Any material or product controlled by WHMIS may be subject to regulations, meaning it might require an MSDS or SDSs. This means that when a company purchases a supply of hazardous materials, it can receive both an MSDS and SDS with its shipment of hazardous materials. These rules are in place to help ensure that a company has plenty of documents that show its employees the dangers of its products, and how they can prepare to handle them safely.

WHMIS regulates both sheets

The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) strictly controls both of these documents. They guide the content of the sheets when materials require a document, and how often these documents get an update. Alongside the Hazardous Products Act, WHMIS helps to set the Canadian standard for the handling and safety of any hazardous materials that a business may use in its day-to-day workings.

They both promote workplace safety

These sheets provide people with not only crucial knowledge about the materials they're using but also about proper first-aid methods and emergency phone numbers. For example, if you're working at a factory that uses a significant amount of industrial-strength cleaning chemicals and some of those chemicals get into a coworker's eye, the MSDS and SDS sheets can tell you what numbers to call and how to help your fellow employee. While these sheets don't prevent workplace accidents, they can help to reduce the chance of them and their severity.

Related: How to Become an Occupational Health Nurse (With Steps)

Differences between these two safety sheets

Although these safety sheets are very similar, they also have some differences, such as details included in each document and instructions on how to handle some materials. Below is a list of a few topics that make MSDSs different from SDSs:

SDSs have more detail

While both sheets have much of the same information, an SDS can contain far more details and instructions. It's usually a more complete breakdown of the product or material and helps to provide a deeper understanding to the user. This isn't always necessary for the user to be safe while using the product, but it's helpful for both the user and the manufacturer to have.

By providing the client with additional details, the supplier helps to ensure that employees are fully aware of any risks they're undertaking at their workplace and gives them a comprehensive view of the safety steps they can take.

Related: How to Be More Detail-Oriented (With Definitions and Resume Tips)

MSDSs accompany the product

MSDSs typically can accompany the product that you purchase from the manufacturer. You may require these sheets to be with the product so that there's no mistaking the product for a different material.

For example, if you work in a warehouse that stores multiple chemicals, and one chemical spills, it's important to know which its components and the potential issues it can create. If the MSDS wasn't with the chemical, it may be harder to identify the proper way to clean up the spill. You want to consult the MSDS before cleaning to make sure that the materials you might use to clean address the issue cause a larger reaction.

Related: How to Conduct a Risk Assessment (Tips and Definition)

SDSs include the ingredients of the material

An SDS includes some sections that an MSDS may not have. One of those sections is a breakdown of the ingredient in the product or material. This helps the supplier and the client to identify if there's anything unique about a particular batch of products, or if there's a significant amount of impurities. This can help companies make sure that they're maintaining their own quality standards for the materials they use. It also helps them inform their employees on how to handle those ingredients and what effects they may produce on the human body.

MSDSs are valid for three years

By law, an MSDS is valid for three years. This means that if you have a product or material that's older than three years, you may get a new MSDS from the manufacturer. This differs from an SDS, which the manufacturer may update when they notice new information. At that point, the manufacturer has 90 days to create and issue a new SDS. While the MSDS may not change in that three-year span, it's still important to keep up-to-date safety documents on site for any dangerous materials that the employees may handle.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Explore more articles