There are many pieces of information available to the consumer that allows you to decide which product is the best to do a job:
- Label on the product packaging
- Point of sale information
- Recommendations from friends or family
- Leaflets produced by the manufacturer or seller
Some of the information displayed on the product label is required by law to help make purchasing decisions and for consumer and environmental safety.
One other important source of product information that the general public do not normally know about is the Safety Data Sheet (SDS). This is a document that gives more technical details of all the hazards associated with the chemicals used in a product, particularly for health and safety risk assessment and other emergency information. They are required by law in all regions across the globe.
The Rentokil Initial Regulatory Team has the expertise to author safety data sheets and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements in this complex area. We also monitor regulations and provide guidance for partners and the Science and Innovation Team in bringing new products to market.
Although an SDS provides more detail than is provided on the product label, it is not primarily intended for household users. It gives more technical detail on the hazardous chemicals in a product or material in a working environment.
An SDS includes:
- The chemical’s identity and ingredients
- The health and physical hazards
- Procedures for safe handling and storage
- Emergency procedures such as first aid measures and what to do in case of spillage
- Disposal considerations
While the format of an SDS can vary globally, every format contains similar information to help employers undertake a risk assessment:
- EU: safety data sheet provisions are set down in the REACH regulations, which became law in 2007
- USA: the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (HCS)
- Australia: Safe Work Australia
- Other regions: GHS framework (see below)
The Globally Harmonised System
The United Nations Developed the Globally Harmonised System (GHS) of classification and labelling of hazardous chemicals following the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The Summit identified that a having globally unified system was important for ensuring safety in the handling, transport and use of chemicals and for international trade in these products. The regulations in many developed countries, including the EU REACH regulations and the US HCS, are now based on the GHS.
Having the same system for classification and labelling provides:
- One system that is understandable worldwide and makes it possible to easily identify hazardous substances
- Reduced need for testing and evaluating chemicals
- Smoother trade in hazardous chemicals because they have been properly assessed, identified, classified and labelled
- Countries without an existing system can adopt it for their use
History of safety data sheets
Safety data sheets actually have an interesting history and have stood the test of time as a means of hazard communication. But do you know what they are and how to use them?
There are reports that early forms of chemical hazard communication have been found in 4000-year-old hieroglyphs in Egyptian pyramids. Perhaps it was used earlier still when the information was exchanged verbally about use of materials for medicines and dyes. In the following centuries, the Sumerians, Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Indian and islamic civilisations expanded the body of knowledge on chemistry.
Early chemical hazard reporting would most likely have covered sources of material, preparation and application procedures as well as warnings about improper use. It would have also formed a way of exchanging knowledge and ideas.
In the early 19th century, chemical manufacturers supplied their customers with safety data sheets covering identification, physicochemical properties and intrinsic hazards. Precautions relating to fire risks were then added with the increasing interest of the fire fighting companies developing in the bigger cities.
Information on emergency and first aid procedures were probably provided on the very first safety data sheets. Through the years, set procedures have been applied in the event of an emergency or accident.
Lessons from chemical warfare
Specifying use of personal protective equipment when handling hazardous chemicals is of more recent origin simply because the modern technologies did not develop until after World War I. Chemical companies, realising the value of gas masks developed for protection in chemical warfare, started to develop them for emergency uses in peacetime.
Modern eye protection has only developed in the last fifty years or so and centralised general ventilation, which subsequently developed into exhaust ventilation, was developed during the 19th century with the introduction of electric fans.
In the 1940’s the US Government published a series of documents called Controlling Chemical Hazards. The first, Ammonia, was published in 1945 and then reprinted in 1955. The government published these documents as a source of information for workers in chemical plants.
Other US Industry groups did the same, notably the Manufacturers Chemical Association (the current CMA) began to publish their Chemical Safety Data Sheets on commodity chemicals, starting with Formaldehyde in 1946.
Health hazard data and the effects of over-exposure to chemicals were also added in the 1940’s. The idea of threshold values for toxicity and workplace exposure limits developed from this framework.
In the 1960s the first SDSs became mandatory for maritime workers using chemicals in the US following a number of incidents related to the use of hazardous chemicals. But they did not become mandatory for all hazardous chemical shipments until twenty years later.
The standard layout of the SDS has been refined since the early days of the modern SDS format, and the extended SDS format under the EU REACH regulations, which includes the chemical safety report. This can mean some SDSs can run to tens of pages.
However, even with the rapid evolution of the internet and the easy access to a lot of good (and poor) quality information, the safety data sheet has remained as the key source of information for risk assessment. Rentokil Initial provides Safety Data Sheets for all its products online.
What are poison centres?
Poison centres are an important part of the safety system for hazardous chemicals. EU countries are required to establish appointed bodies, often called poison centres, to receive information on the composition of hazardous mixtures (such as detergents, paints, adhesives, etc).
Chemical manufacturers and importers have to provide this information by law. Medical professionals and other emergency personnel can then access this information in case of a medical emergency.
Poison centres in the EU answer at least 600,000 calls per year from the general public, medical and emergency personnel (about 1,700 calls per day). Roughly half of the cases are related to accidental exposure to dangerous chemicals involving children. It is estimated that the number of fatalities in the EU related to poisoning from hazardous chemicals is at least 400 per year.
Rentokil Initial provides a 24-hour emergency telephone service where a trained member of staff can provide assistance in case of a health and safety emergency, in addition to the information provided on the safety data sheet.
In March 2017 the European Commission, after consultation with stakeholders, adopted a new regulation to harmonise information on product composition and to use a uniform product identifier (Article 45 of the Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP) Regulations).
The uniform product identifier enables all the poison centres to correctly identify any hazardous product and its composition, wherever it originates, and to give the correct advice for medical treatment in case of an accident.
Poison centres have had difficulty identifying the product involved in an emergency in up to 40% of calls they have received, so it is vital that they have the correct information provided in a standardised format.
In addition, harmonising the requirements for hazardous chemicals across the EU is forecast to generate savings of about €550 million for member countries.
What information is on a safety data sheet?
A safety data sheet is a document containing the following information:
- Identification of the substance/mixture, the company/undertaking and emergency telephone numbers
- Hazards identification
- Composition/information on ingredients
- First-aid measures
- Fire-fighting measures
- Accidental release measures
- Handling and storage
- Exposure controls/personal protection
- Physical and chemical properties
- Stability and reactivity
- Toxicological information
- Ecological information
- Disposal considerations
- Transport information
- Regulatory information
- Other relevant information
Safety Data Sheets are basically a simple concept, but they affect a vast range of products such as domestic and industrial cleaning products, rodenticides, insecticides, paints and fragrances. They have been so successful because they are internationally recognised, easy to use and provide the right amount of detail for all users to conduct a risk assessment to ensure the product is not accidentally misused.
Safety Data Sheets will continue to play a vital role in the protection of health and the environment from the tens of thousands of chemicals manufactured for domestic and industrial products and the thousands of new chemicals introduced globally each year.
Our expertise in science, innovation and regulatory issues ensures that we have the highest levels of safety in our products and how they are used.