Safety Data Sheets, GHS, REACH, and Global Human Unity.

Safety Data Sheets are boring technical documents you just need for shipping and handling chemicals. Or at least that is how most people see them.

I see them differently. When someone says “SDS” or “Safety Data Sheet” John Lennon’s Imagine immediately starts playing in my mind. That’s because I see Safety Data Sheets as beautiful symbols of Global Human Unity. Let me try and explain to you why.

They are about Safety: which translates to concern for each other and the subtext of that is Compassion. No one wants to see anyone else get hurt. And that sentiment: keeping everyone safe is one we all share. It’s part of what makes us all human. The United Nations was itself built upon the sentiment that keeping everyone, and the whole world, safe, was something Humanity as a whole should try to do.

For chemical substances especially, managing and minimizing the dangers and hazards they pose to human health and safety is something that unites us as a species. That’s why at the 1992 Earth Summit the UN declared an International Mandate for a “globally harmonized classification and compatible labeling system, including material safety data sheets”.

The GHS SDS: a Template for a Global Safety Data Sheet

It took a while, but by 2003 the UN Sub-Committee of Experts on the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (UNSCEGHS) published the first version of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). The GHS was designed to lead “to safer conditions for the global population and the environment” and ultimately gave birth to the modern SDS as we know them today. So thankfully there is finally a global, universal standardized global format of 16 basic sections for Safety Data Sheets:

  • Section 1 Identification of the substance or mixture and of the supplier
  • Section 2 Hazard identification
  • Section 3 Composition/information on ingredients
  • Section 4 First-aid measures
  • Section 5 Fire-fighting measures
  • Section 6 Accidental release measures
  • Section 7 Handling and storage
  • Section 8 Exposure controls/personal protection
  • Section 9 Physical and chemical properties
  • Section 10 Stability and reactivity
  • Section 11 Toxicological information
  • Section 12 Ecological information
  • Section 13 Disposal consideration
  • Section 14 Transport information
  • Section 15 Regulatory information
  • Section 16 Other information

*You can buy the whole 530-page GHS Book directly from the official UN Shop.

Before GHS every region of the world or nation had its own specific legal version of an SDS. As an example: the US had the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) (This was phased out in 2010 in favor of the GHS compliant SDS.) And each country had its own way of formatting, classifying, and communicating about chemicals and their hazards.

International trade was a mess because every country had its own standard to comply with. However, even though a globally standardized SDS system helps “facilitate international trade by promoting greater consistency in the national requirements for chemical hazard classification and communication” we, as a species, still aren’t there yet.

Region-specific Safety Data Sheets

The GHS standard for Safety Data Sheets has been adopted by big players like the USA and the EU, but there are still many nations and regions that have different and even incompatible standards for communicating chemical data. I’m not just talking about regions and nations that are GHS SDS late-comers. Some countries use the GHS SDS format as a minimum required format and add their own additional requirements!

Consider France’s supplementary SDS requirement to identify the use of nano-particles. Another good example is California Proposition 65 which requires  SDS’s to include carcinogenic warnings. If you used the same warnings on an SDS in Germany your chemicals would be blocked at the border because in Germany carcinogenic warnings are only used for far more dangerous controlled substances. Precisely because it is so difficult to know what you need on your Safety Data Sheet before you ship your chemicals Caplinq offers its world-renown SDS service. CAPLINQ can ensure REACH, regional, and national compliance by providing Safety Data Sheets in any language and for any local legal requirements. CAPLINQ’s service is really useful when you realize that you are legally obliged to give any customer an SDS in their own language and format when they request one.

The REACH SDS and Human Unity: our Global Future

In the immortal words of John Lennon, “you may call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one”.

GHS was incorporated into EU law via the classification, labeling, and packaging of substances and mixtures regulation (CLP). The EU’s CLP and REACH regulations together established the REACH SDS format which builds upon the UN’s basic GHS SDS format. The EU’s REACH SDS format is now being adopted by more and more international regions and nations (that export into the EU) as their own legal SDS format. So slowly but surely the REACH Safety Data Sheet is spreading and becoming its own universal language.

REACH Safety Data Sheets are truly a fascinating form of global human cooperation. I’m continually surprised and truly touched that the thing that most unites us as a species isn’t abstract, complicated, or subjective but simply how to stay healthy and safe. When future generations look back from their happy unified future planet they will have a special place in their history books for the SDS. Until that day, CAPLINQ will continue to help you and your business meet the petite regional and national legal standards for SDS format as well as translating them into local languages. So feel free to contact us if you need any help.

About Danielle van Noorden

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