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Understanding Safety Data Sheets

So much about the world of aromatherapy is joyful and exciting, but curating and understanding the technical documentation that comes with your oils is often anything but. Safety Data Sheets are a key piece of documentation that you may have come across before, and like most people it may have had your head spinning. So, what do you do if you need to get to grips with these documents, but you don’t know where to start?

We’re going to be upfront with you: Safety Data Sheets are complicated. Figuring them out on your own could take you hours. Luckily, we’re here to help. We’ve spent hours pouring over these documents, unpacking what they mean, and figuring out how to produce them on our own. The good news for you is that we’ve done the studying so that you don’t have to. Feel free to copy our notes.

What do you need? 

I need a brief summary that helps me understand what I'm looking at.

I need someone to talk me through each section of the SDS and explain how I would make my own.

 

“I need a brief summary that helps me understand what I’m looking at.”

THE SHORT VERSION

We’ll try to make this as simple as possible. If you get lost at any point, try grabbing an SDS to follow along. We have lots available on our website under ‘Technical Documentation’.

A Safety Data Sheet, or SDS, is a document that details the specifics, composition, hazards, and precautionary statements of a chemical or formulation, along with other important information. Safety Data Sheets are required by the UK REACH regulation. Any oil you buy, essential or fragrance, should have an SDS, although sometimes you will have to reach out to the supplier to ask for one.

An SDS should be 16 sections long. Each section contains important information about the product, although you may notice that some of the information is repeated.

Section 1: Identification of the substance or the mixture and of the supplier:

This section should include all identifying information that someone might need to find the product on an online database. It should also tell you how to contact the supplier, or who to contact in an emergency.

Section 2: Hazards information

If you are curious about the risks associated with a product, this is where you should look.  This section should list all the official hazards associated with the product. These will come from its classification. There are a number of hazard classifications that a substance might have, some of which are mild and some of which are severe.

2.1 Classification of the substance or mixture

Here you should find a list of all the hazard categories that the substance falls into. Remember that these are just categories, and they won’t tell you what the actual risk is.

2.2 Label elements

This section lists things that should be included on labels for the product.

Hazard pictograms are the black and red warning symbols. The SDS should show you these symbols.

Signal words indicate how high the risk is. Lower risks use the signal word ‘Warning’. Higher risks use the signal word ‘Danger’.

Hazard statements tell you what the risk is. They will have a ‘H’ code next to them, which is used to search them on databases. These statements tell you what you have to look out for when using the product. Most of these hazards are unlikely to actually affect you if you follow the precautionary statements.

Precautionary statements tell you what you have to do to minimise these risks. You should follow these whilst you handle the product.

Supplemental information will only be added if there is additional important information that you should know about the product.

2.3 Other hazards

If the substance poses any other risks that don’t fall into a specific hazard category then you will find them here.

Section 3: Composition/information on ingredients

Section 3 has two subsections. These are: 3.1 Substances and 3.2 Mixtures. However, only one of these two subsections will appear in the SDS. This depends on whether the product is a substance/raw material or a mixture. Essential oils, which are natural products, will have 3.1 Substances on an SDS, whereas fragrance oils, which are synthetic formulations, will have 3.2 Mixtures..

In this section you will see all of the components of the product that it is important for you to know about. Sometimes not every component will be listed as some of them do not require you to know any safety information about them.

Section 4: First-aid measures

This section should describe how an untrained responder should react in a situation where first aid is needed, or where to seek help from in an emergency. It may also have notes for a doctor if one is required.

Section 5: Firefighting measures

This section gives information on fighting a fire involving the substance. This could either be a fire started by the substance or a fire that occurs near to the substance. It will also give advice to firefighters.

Section 6: Accidental release measures

This section details what to do in case of a spillage, leakage or other accident. It will tell you how to protect yourself, your personal property, and the environment that you are in.

Section 7: Handling and storage

This section is fairly straightforward, detailing the ways in which the product should be handled, stored, and eventually used.

Section 8: Exposure controls/personal protection

This section gives instructions on how to protect oneself from exposure to the substance.

Section 9: Physical and chemical properties

This section lists all the relevant properties of the substance for which there is available information. Sometimes there won’t be available data for a property, in which case the document will read ‘no data’.

Section 10: Stability and reactivity

This section will give any necessary detailed information on situations in which the product may become unstable or react in a negative way. This helps you to avoid keeping the product under these conditions.

Section 11: Toxicological information

This section will usually summarise information on hazards, and usually a lot of the material here will be repeated from earlier sections.

Section 12: Ecological information

This section will outline the impact of the substance if it were to be released into the environment.

Section 13: Disposal considerations

This section will explain how to safely dispose of the product.

Section 14: Transport information

This section consists of all classification information needed for the safe transportation of the substance. It will not be relevant for most buyers, and there’s a good chance you don’t need to read  this section.

15.1 Regulatory information

If there is any other regulatory information not already provided, it will be stated here.

Section 16: Other information

This section contains all other relevant information not included in Sections 1-15 of the SDS.

 

“I need someone to talk me through each section of the SDS and explain how I would make my own.”

THE LONG VERSION

A Safety Data Sheet, or SDS, is a document that details the specifics, composition, hazards, and precautionary statements of a chemical or formulation, along with other important information. Safety Data Sheets are required by the UK REACH regulation.

Anyone selling essential or fragrance oils must provide an SDS, so that the purchaser has all the information necessary to safely handle the product that they are purchasing. If you create products from the oils such as candles, soaps, or melts, then you will also need to provide an SDS to anyone you intend to sell these products to. That’s because these products would be considered a mixture under REACH regulation.

A Safety Data Sheet should be 16 sections long, and each section contains very specific information that it is important to get right. Your manufacturer or oil supplier has to provide you with an SDS or MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) under request, which should give you a clear example of what each of the sections should look like. However, we know that creating an SDS for the first time can feel like a daunting task, and even just trying to make sense of the document from your supplier can be a headache. In this article we are going to break the Safety Data Sheet down and go through section by section.

Section 1: Identification of the substance or the mixture and of the supplier:

This section should include all identifying information that someone might need to find the product on online databases. This may include the official product name and any unique product codes, as well as the name and contact details of the supplier along with an emergency contact. Raw materials may also need a CAS-No. and EC-No. along with a botanical/INCI name. This helps others to find the raw material on online databases such as European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).

  • Product Identifier

A basic structure for section 1.1 may appear as follows:

Product identifier:

Substance name:

EC No.:

CAS No.:

Index No.:

REACH Registration No.:

It may be that not all of these sections are necessary or have values attached to them, and it also may be that more or different sections are needed in order to provide all of the necessary identifying information. Any documents provided by suppliers will help you to understand what you need to disclose about the substance. Basically, any identifying information that you can give about this substance should go here.

If you are looking for more information on a substance, you may want to use this information to search for the substance on a database such as ECHA.

  • Relevant identified uses of the substance or mixture and uses advised against

This section may be structured as follows:

Product uses:

Uses advised against:

Reason why uses advised against:

You don’t have to anticipate every possible use of the product here, just state the most relevant intended use or uses. The second two sections are not absolutely necessary but should be filled in if there is a risky use that you need to specifically warn about. For example, if your product cannot be used indoors due to harmful fumes, you should state that here.

If you have purchased a product intending to use it for something that is not mentioned here, it is best to ask the supplier or manufacturer what they recommend.

  • Details of the supplier of the safety data sheet

Here you should find the contact information for the supplier or manufacturer. This section may be structured as followed:

Company name:

Company address:

Contact:

E-Mail Address:

Company phone:

The email address and phone should belong to a competent person responsible for the SDS.

  • Emergency telephone number

Here you should provide a telephone number that customers may contact with any emergency concerns. This may not be a telephone number from within the company and may be the number for an official advisory body, so long as you are assured that they will be available to take queries.

Section 2: Hazards information

This section should provide information about the hazard classifications of the substance. It is really important that this information is correct according to the best of your knowledge. Searching official databases such as ECHA will help you to find classifications for different raw materials, however all oil manufacturers should provide this information for you.

2.1 Classification of the substance or mixture

Before listing the class and category of danger, this section should state the following:

Classification under Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008

A list should then follow of all the hazard categories that the substance falls into.

2.2 Label elements

Label elements should consist of the following:

                Hazard pictograms

                Signal word

                Hazard statements

                Precautionary statements

                Any supplemental information

Hazard pictograms are the black and red warning symbols associated with different hazard categories.

Signal words indicate the severity of the hazard. If hazards are less severe, the signal word is ‘Warning’. If the hazards are more severe, the SDS must include the signal word ‘Danger’.

Hazard statements describe the nature of the hazard. They will usually be a short sentence summarising the risk that the substance may pose. You can identify hazard statements by their ‘H’ code (e.g.: H304, H411).

Precautionary statements describe the recommended steps one should take to minimise the risk of adverse effects from the hazard. They will usually consist of one or two command sentences that briefly describe an action. You can identify hazard statements by their ‘P’ code (e.g.: P261, P331)

Supplemental information is only necessary if you need to provide extra information about a hazard that is not covered in the above sections. The vast majority of the time, this section will read as ‘None’ or ‘Not applicable’

It is important that you include the relevant information for each of the hazard categories that the substance falls into. However, you don’t have to repeat information. For example, if two hazard categories used the same pictogram, you would only have to provide that pictogram once.

2.3 Other hazards

If the substance poses any other risks that are not covered under the official classifications then they should be listed here.

 

Section 3: Composition/information on ingredients

Section 3 has two subsections. These are: 3.1 Substances and 3.2 Mixtures. However, only one of these two subsections will appear in the SDS. This depends on whether the product is a substance/raw material or a mixture. Essential oils, which are natural products, will need 3.1 Substances on an SDS, whereas fragrance oils, which are synthetic formulations, will need 3.2 Mixtures. Products made with either oil such as candles or wax melts will need 3.2 Mixtures.

In both of these sections, the chemical composition or ‘recipe’ is listed as a complete list of components, along with identifying information such as an EC-No. or Cas-No., the percentage of the product that they make up, and often also which hazards they contribute to or are responsible for.

It may also be that some components of the product are not included in this table as they are not relevant to any database, or they have too low of a concentration to be relevant.

 

Section 4: First-aid measures

This section should describe initial first aid measures in case of accident in a way that even an untrained responder can understand and apply. It should use plain language and require no equipment that the average person would not have access to. When the situation is not one that an untrained responder can assist with, it should detail exactly where to seek emergency help from.

4.1 Description of first aid measures

This section may begin with some general notes, or it may just contain the following sections:

                Inhalation

                Eye exposure

                Skin exposure

                Ingestion

The document should then clearly detail what to do should each of these situations occur.

4.2 Most important symptoms and effects, both acute and delayed

Here the document should list the symptoms that a person is most likely to experience if contamination of any kind occurs. This section should only list the effects of contamination, not how to treat them.

4.3 Indication of any immediate medical attention and special treatment needed

Sometimes it may be a good idea to warn those handling the substance that they may need special first aid equipment on site in order to promptly treat the effects of a particular case. That information would be found in this section.

This section may also provide information for the doctor that uses language an untrained person may not be able to understand. This information may appear under the heading ‘Notes for the doctor’.

If no further information is required this section may redirect back to Section 4.1.

 

Section 5: Firefighting measures

This section gives information on fighting a fire involving the substance. This could either be a fire started by the substance or a fire that occurs near to the substance.

5.1 Extinguishing media

Under the heading ‘Suitable media’, the document should list ways to safely fight the fire. There may also be a section titled ‘Unsuitable media’. Here the document may list methods for fighting the fire that should not be used.

5.2 Special hazards arising from the substance or mixture

Here, the document should list any hazardous vapours that the substance may give off, or any other hazards that may arise from the object being heated.

5.3 Advice for firefighters

This section will usually give firefighters an idea of what kind of protective gear is appropriate for fighting the fire. For example, a very potent chemical posing a high risk when alight may require firefighters to wear a gas-tight suit.

 

Section 6: Accidental release measures

This section should detail what to do in case of a spillage, leakage or other accidental release of the substance. It should be written in plain language and outline measures to protect the people handling the substance, their personal property, and the environment that they are in.

6.1 Personal precautions, protective equipment and emergency procedures:

This section should briefly summarise what the person handling the substance can do to keep themselves safe. It may redirect to sections 7 and 8.

6.2 Environmental precautions

Here, the document should outline any environmental precautions that need to be taken if the substance is accidently released.

6.3 Methods and material for containment and cleaning up

Here, the document should briefly outline how to contain and clean up a spill, making sure to provide advice on how one can stay safe whilst doing so.

6.4 Reference to other sections

This section will generally consist of a cross-reference to sections 8 and 13.

 

Section 7: Handling and storage

This section is fairly straightforward, detailing the ways in which the product should be handled, stored, and eventually used.

7.1 Precautions for safe handling

This section should list measures to prevent fires, protect the environment, and protect the person handling the substance from contamination. It may also detail general hygiene measures for handling the product.

7.2 Conditions for safe storage, including any incompatibilities

This section should explain how to safely store the substance and keep it from explosive atmosphere, corrosive conditions, and flammability hazards.

7.3 Specific end use(s)

Here, the document may list a couple of specific uses for the substance. For example, an SDS for an essential oil may read: For use in aromatherapy.

 

Section 8: Exposure controls/personal protection

This section gives instructions on how to protect oneself from exposure to the substance.

8.1 Control parameters

If specific limit values are needed in order to set a boundary for safe exposure, they will be included here. This may not always be necessary. Essential oils, for example, are used for aromatherapy and so exposure is considered a positive thing. This means that an exposure limit does not need to be included in the SDS.

8.2 Exposure controls

This section details the personal protection that someone may need when handling the substance in order to almost eliminate the risk of contamination. For example, it may suggest that eye protection is worn when handling essential oils. This advice should be applied with common sense – when using the oils to make candles, it is probably prudent to wear eye protection. However, you probably don’t need to use eye protection every time you add a few drops of oil to an oil burner.

This section also gives advice on appropriate engineering controls. This applies more to cases where the substance is being worked with in an industrial or semi-industrial environment over a considerable period of time. If a person spent hours making soap with essential or fragrance oils in their kitchen, for example, this section might advise that they increase ventilation of the area.

 

Section 9: Physical and chemical properties

This section lists all the relevant properties of the substance for which there is available information. This must include the flash point, unless the substance is a gas, aerosol or solid. It may also include a description of the appearance, the typical odour of the substance, the physical state, the melting/boiling/freezing point, and other relevant chemical properties.

9.1 Information on basic physical and chemical properties

This section usually consists of a list of all properties. For those with no available data, the document will usually read ‘Not determined’ or ‘No data’.

9.2 Other information

Any other necessary information relating to the properties of the substance should be listed here.

 

Section 10: Stability and reactivity

Whilst stability and reactivity of the substance may be touched upon in Section 9, Section 10 is often used to give qualitative descriptions of possible consequences. Some of this information may be repeated in other sections.

10.1 Reactivity

This section should describe the reactivity hazards of the substance.

10.2 Chemical stability

This section should let us know whether the substance or mixture is stable under ‘ordinary’ storage conditions, which is to say that the conditions do not expose the substance to any extreme temperatures or pressure.

10.3 Possibility of hazardous reactions

This section should state whether or not it is expected that a substance will have a hazardous reaction, and under what conditions this reaction might occur.

10.4 Conditions to avoid

There may be some overlap here with section 10.2, so it is important to check that the information is consistent. If there are any conditions that the substance is known to react badly to then they should be outlined here.

10.5 Incompatible materials

Any materials that would induce a bad reaction in the substance should be covered here. It is not necessary to give a long list of incompatible materials here, and the document should list substance classes here instead – for example, ‘strong acids’.

10.6 Hazardous decomposition products

This section should be used to cover any hazardous products that are produced when the substance starts to decompose. If decomposition is not expected, that can be stated here.

 

Section 11: Toxicological information

This section should reflect the information already gathered on possible hazards associated with the substance and summarise it. A lot of this information may be repeated in other sections, so it is important to make sure that everything is consistent.

11.1 Reactivity

This section should summarise the hazards attached to each of the following categories:

                Acute Toxicity

                Skin corrosion/irritation

Serious eye damage/irritation

Respiratory or skin sensitisation

Germ cell mutagenicity

Carcinogenicity

Reproductive toxicity

STOT-single exposure

STOT-repeated exposure

Aspiration hazard

These sections should each always appear on the SDS. If there are no hazards associated with the substance for a particular category, then it should read as follows:

                Carcinogenicity: Based on available data the classification criteria are not met.

Identifying information may also be given about hazardous ingredients in the mixture.

 

Section 12: Ecological information

This section should examine the impact of the substance if it were to be released into the environment. It may list not only the risks the substance poses to the environment, but how long those risks are likely to persist for. However, as this information can be hard to come by, it may only include data related to section 12.1.

12.1 Toxicity

This section should summarise how toxic the substance is to aquatic life based on the hazard codes.

12.2 Persistence and degradability

This section should summarise how long the subject typically takes to degrade.

12.3 Bioaccumulative potential

This section should summarise the eventual potential of the substance to pass through the food chain.

12.4 Mobility in soil

This section should summarise the potential of the substance to move to the groundwater and distance itself from the site of release.

12.5 Results of PBT and vPvB

These tests assess whether substances are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) or very persistent and very bioaccumulative (vPvB). If the results of these tests are available then they should be stated here.

It may be that the substance does not require this test, in which case the document may state something to this effect:

This substance does meet the PBT/vPvB criteria of REACH, annex XIII.

12.6 Other adverse effects

Any other adverse effects on the environment not covered in the previous sections should be stated here.

 

Section 13: Disposal considerations

It is important that risks continue to be properly controlled after the substance is disposed with. The criteria for disposing of a substance should be outlined in this section.

13.1 Waste treatment methods

The correct method for disposing of the substance should be outlined in detail here.

 

Section 14: Transport information

All classification information needed for the safe transportation of the substance should be included in this section.

14.1 UN number

The code beginning ‘UN’ identifying the substance should go here.

14.2 UN proper shipping name

The proper shipping name under UN regulations should go here.

14.3 Transport hazard class(es)

The transport hazard class should be calculated on the basis of the predominant risk that the hazard presents.

14.4 Packing group

The packing group number should be provided here. This number is assigned to substances according to the degree of hazard they present.

14.5 Environmental hazards

It should be stated here whether or not the substance is considered environmentally hazardous.

14.6 Special precautions for user

If there are any special precautions that a user should take with regards to transport then they should go here. If there are none, this section should read ‘None additional’.

14.7 Transport in bulk

This section may have a variety of names depending on what transport code is being followed, but often this value will be ‘Not Applicable’. This information is only relevant to substances being transported in bulk.

 

15.1 Regulatory information

This section should summarise other regulatory information not already provided.

15.1 Safety, health and environmental regulations/legislation specific for the substance or mixture

The national regulatory information may be given here, along with anything else demanded by national laws.

15.2 Chemical safety assessment

This section should state whether or not a chemical safety assessment has been carried out for this product.

 

Section 16: Other information

This section contains all other relevant information not included in Sections 1-15 of the SDS, often including a key to all abbreviations used in the document.

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