Safety Data Sheets (SDS) FAQ

What is a (Material) Safety Data Sheet?

Safety Data Sheets, also known as SDS, are standard reference documents for chemical information and they provide working people and emergency service personnel essential information about:

  • Basic physical and chemical properties of the chemical
  • Correct safety procedures when storing, handling, transporting and disposing of the product
  • Health hazards and impacts on the environment
  • What to do in accidents and emergencies

The information provided in Safety Data Sheet form the basis for managing many compliance requirements regarding the storage, handling, transport and disposal of the product, as well as managing risks that chemical products impose.

What are the Globally Harmonised System and the Nationally Harmonised Workplace Health and Safety Legislations?

The GHS (Globally Harmonised System) is a global system for the classification of chemicals that is recently adopted by Australia and it concerns the classification of chemicals, labels and safety data sheets. Manufacturers and importers of chemicals can begin using the GHS for classification, labelling and preparing safety data sheets, however the GHS is not mandatory until 1 January 2017.
The Nationally Harmonised Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) Legislations is a national effort to unify Australia's legislative framework. All Australian jurisdictions have committed to adopting the model work health and safety legislation, with many states already in implementation as of 1 January 2012. WHS legislations adopt the 3rd revised Edition of the GHS.
More information regarding the GHS and Model WHS legislations can be found on Safe Work Australia's website at

How do safety data sheets prepared in accordance to the GHS differ from those prepared before the GHS was implemented?

In the GHS, chemicals are classified under a different set of hazard classifications and replaces classifications Australia has previously used for classifying hazardous substances. However, the GHS format of Safety Data Sheets is similar to what Australia has previously adopted. Both types of SDS are accepted in Australia until 1 January 2017 and relevant legislations still require you to refer to safety data sheets for your chemical management procedures.  

Who is required to classify a chemical as according to the GHS?

Under the model WHS Regulations, manufacturers and importer of hazardous chemicals have a duty to correctly classify a chemical before the chemical is supplied to a workplace.

Can Material Safety Data Sheets not conforming to the GHS be used for my chemical management procedures?

The GHS is not mandatory until 1 January 2017, therefore safety data sheets that comply with the GHS or the existing classifications can be used during this 5-year transition period.

Do the GHS and Nationally Harmonised WHS Legislations affect my manifests and placards?

A key change of the WHS Regulations is the use of hazard classes and categories under the GHS, instead of classes and categories according to the ADG (Australian Dangerous Goods) Code. As it is not mandatory for Safety Data Sheets to be prepared according to the GHS until 1 January 2017, it is likely that you would have a mix of safety data sheets, some of which are prepared as according to the GHS. Safe Work Australia has set out translations that show the link between GHS classes and categories and equivalent classes of dangerous goods under the ADG Code.

In the case of agricultural and veterinary products why is it necessary to have Safety Data Sheets as well as product labels?

SDS and product labels contain essential safety and legislative information, where some information are provided in both documents. In particular, product labels provide specific legal usage information which must be followed when preparing and applying the product while safety data sheets provide specific health risk and safety information for handling these chemicals. Therefore, neither document can act as a substitute for another.

Who should have SDS?

Employers, employees, end users and emergency services personnel who are exposed to or could be potentially exposed to these products.

How to obtain an SDS for a particular substance?

SDS are available from manufacturers and suppliers as hard-copy or soft-copy documents. Suppliers must provide a Safety Data Sheet when first supplying a hazardous substance and subsequently on request. SDS are regularly updated to reflect, for example, legislative and classification changes and it is important to ensure these documents are up-to-date.
Under the Agsafe Industry Code of Practice, Agsafe accredited resellers are strongly recommended to facilitate supply of SDS.

What are an employer's* duties in relation to SDS?

By law, an employer has to obtain a Safety Data Sheet for a hazardous substance when it is first supplied to the workplace and make sure it is accessible to employees who are potentially exposed to the hazardous substance.Because SDS expire every five years and they are frequently revised, it is common for employers and chemical users to outsource third-party systems to maintain up-to-date SDS for their range of chemicals.

*Note that most of the requirements imposed on employers under occupational health and safety (OH&S) regulations also apply to persons who are self-employed. In such a case the term 'employer' includes self-employed persons.

Is an online SDS considered to be sufficiently accessible?

Online SDS are considered ‘accessible’ if employees have ready-access to these stored documents, however it is strongly recommended that printed hard copies are made available and kept where they can be found quickly in the event of an accident or emergency. It is recommended that a folder is kept clearly marked and with Safety Data Sheets stored alphabetically by trade name. High visibility SDS folders are available from Farm Minder.

Do SDS show information for non-active constituents in the formulation?

Agricultural and veterinary chemicals are sold in a variety of formulations, typically to suit their physical state and use patterns. Safety Data Sheets need to show information about other constituents of the chemical if they are present in hazardous amounts, not just the active constituent. The SDS for an agricultural or veterinary chemical product will have information which identifies each of its constituents, and are available for active constituents as well as for formulated products.

Can I get generic SDS for the products I store?

No. A Safety Data Sheet provides essential information that applies to its product and these information can be very different between similar products from different manufacturers. Employers should provide original and unaltered SDS from the manufacturer or supplier of the products that they use and store in the workplace.

Does an SDS expire?

SDS in Australia must be reviewed and if necessary revised at least every five years. SDS are normally revised more frequently to reflect, for example, legislative and classification changes.

What is the format of an SDS?

The number of pages in a Safety Data Sheet may vary and depends on the amount of information that exists for each particular substance. In Australia SDS should follow either the format outlined by the GHS (Globally Harmonised System) or the National Code of Practice for the Preparation of Material Safety Data Sheets, 2nd Edition (NOHSC2011-2003), which stipulate a 16-section format:

Section 1 - Identification of the material and supplier
Section 2 - Hazards 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 considerations
Section 14 - Transport information
Section 15 - Regulatory information
Section 16 - Other information

How do I know if my chemicals are hazardous substances or dangerous goods?

Refer to Section 2, 14 and 15 of the SDS, which shows the chemical’s hazardous and dangerous goods classifications.

What do I have to do if I keep and use agricultural or veterinary chemicals which are hazardous substances?

Relevant legislations require a hazardous substances register and dangerous goods register to be maintained as well as a documented hazard identification and risk management processes. The primary objective of maintaining these records is to ensure the health & safety and wellbeing of employees, the workplace and the environment. You will need systems to control and manage risks, based on a principle known as the control hierarchy, together with ongoing training, monitoring, review and documentation. Farm Minder facilitates compliance with these requirements. Whilst the label is a culmination of a risk assessment process done by the APVMA, and compliance with the label goes a long way towards being a suitable control for OH&S purposes you still need to assess risks and use the hierarchy of controls which relate to your particular situation.

More Information

Safe Work Australia is the government agency that sets the requirements for safety data sheets. More information on SDS can be found on the Safe Work Australia website.