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PRIO – A tool for Risk Reduction of Chemicals

Safety data sheets

Safety data sheets (which used to be called product information sheets) must contain the information that users need in order to be able to handle the product in a safe and environmentally acceptable manner.

The regulation on safety data sheets are harmonised within the EU according to article 31 in the Reach Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006.

There must be safety data sheets for the following chemical products:

  • Substances and preparations that are hazardous (i.e. inflammable, oxidising, explosive, harmful to health and those posing a danger to the environment) in accordance with the regulations (CLP) concerning the classification and labelling of chemical products.
  • Preparations that are not classified as hazardous but contain at least 1% (0.2% for gases) of one substance posing health or environmental hazards.
  • Preparations that are not classified as hazardous but contain at least 1% (0.2% for gases) of a substance for which there are community workplace exposure limits.
  • Safety data sheets are also required in certain other cases. Read more in article 31 in the Reach regulation (EC) No 1907/2006.

Safety data sheets have many users

Many people in a company may find the information in a safety data sheet useful. Naturally in the first place they are the ones who come into "physical contact" with the chemicals who are concerned, but there are many others who should be informed of the chemical risks. Environmental co-ordinators, buyers and those responsible for transport are some examples of such people. It can be good to be clear about the following, as safety data sheets are used, among other things for:

  • Making risk assessments of the environmental and health risks that are associated with the specific chemical product.
  • Being a support when purchasing chemical products.
  • Setting up safe work places and working methods.
  • Ensuring that the chemical is handled in a way so as not to harm the environment or human health.
  • Preparing company-specific instructions and safety sheets.
  • Preparing a basis for the classification of own products (articles).
  • Preparing a basis for chemical replacement plans.
  • Preparing a basis for how the product is to be handled as waste.
  • Generating risk information that should be present in the company's list of chemical products.

In the case of professional use the safety data sheet must be supplied to the customer no later than on the first delivery. Sheets must be cost-free, written in Swedish and dated. A "best before" date is highly applicable for this type of information and against the background of recurring regulation changes, so sheets should seldom be older than two or three years. At present it is usual to have the safety data sheets transmitted electronically. However, the recipient should first approve this. It can be of valuable service to also have the sheets accessible via the company web site.

It is important for those who prepare safety data sheets to have sufficient competence in the fields of chemistry, toxicology and ecological toxicology and be familiar with the regulations in these areas. At the same time the information in safety data sheets must be easy to understand. Therefore any specialist terms must be explained and test results also expressed in plain text. The level of detail of the information that is needed varies according to the type of product involved. If the product is intended for a specific application, more detailed handling instructions should be provided than if the product is, for example, a raw material or can be used for many different applications. A safety data sheet should contain 16 different main headings.

Safety data sheets can have deficiencies

Deficiencies can occur in suppliers' safety data sheets. Don't be afraid to contact the supplier to give your views or ask for additional information. The following areas have generated critical comments among various companies, and you can therefore pay special attention to them when you are reviewing the sheets:

  • It is not unusual to exaggerate the risks.
  • The information in different safety data sheets is very similar, despite the fact that there may be large differences in the hazards posed by the substances. Template-based computer systems that produce safety data sheets may introduce different kinds of errors. They readily create standard phrases and general-purpose phrases that make it difficult for the reader to assess how each individual product should be handled.
  • The information is not sufficiently detailed and varied to be able to perform a risk analysis. It is very important that the information on the sheet is specific to the product.
  • Important factual information is missing. This may be the time required for flushing eyes, type of filter for breathing masks, disposal code (EWC code – European Waste Catalogue code) and similar information.
  • There is no information concerning how to deal with spills and waste.
  • The technical terms used in the safety data sheet are too difficult.