By Law, Who Is Responsible For Providing Safety Data Sheets?

Picture of Ben Shaw-Parker, Ph.D.

Ben Shaw-Parker, Ph.D.

Provision of Safety Data Sheets: Who’s in Charge?

Regarding workplace safety, ensuring the well-being of employees is not just a moral duty but also a legal requirement.

Central to this commitment is the provision and accessibility of Safety Data Sheets (SDSs). But when it comes to the legal obligations surrounding these crucial documents, confusion often arises.

By law, who is responsible for providing safety data sheets? Let’s delve into this topic and unravel the responsibilities that surround the provision of safety data sheets.

What Are Safety Data Sheets?

First, let’s understand what SDSs are and why they are so important.

Safety Data Sheets are detailed documents that provide critical information about hazardous chemicals and substances used in various workplaces.

They cover data on potential health effects, safety precautions, proper handling practices, emergency response guidelines, and more.

Essentially, SDSs are the go-to resources for ensuring that businesses and their employees can safely handle, store, and dispose of hazardous substances.

Who Is Responsible For Providing Safety Data Sheets? The Legal Framework

The responsibility for providing Safety Data Sheets is enshrined in legal frameworks that vary by country, but a common thread in many jurisdictions is the alignment with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).

The GHS provides a standardised approach to hazard communication, including the use of SDSs.

Let’s break down the responsibilities within two major legal contexts: the United States and the European Union.

Safety Data Sheets in the United States

In the United States, the regulatory authority governing the safe management of hazardous chemicals in the workplace is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

One of the key mechanisms OSHA employs to ensure the safety of workers exposed to hazardous chemicals is through the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), codified under 29 CFR 1910.1200.

This standard is designed to guarantee that information about the identities and hazards of the chemicals in the workplace is communicated to employers and employees.

Under the HCS, the primary responsibility for providing Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) falls on chemical manufacturers, distributors, and importers.

These entities are tasked with the creation of an SDS for each hazardous chemical they produce or import.

The SDS must comprehensively detail the chemical’s properties, including its hazards, safe handling practices, emergency control measures, and more.

This requirement is stipulated under section 1910.1200(g) of the HCS, which mandates that an SDS be developed for each hazardous chemical, and that it must conform to a standardised format, consisting of 16 sections that cover everything from identification and hazard(s) identification to exposure controls/personal protection and toxicological information.

Furthermore, the HCS requires these manufacturers, distributors, and importers to distribute the SDSs to downstream users — essentially, the employers who purchase these hazardous chemicals.

This ensures that those at the forefront of potential exposure, the employees, have access to vital safety information.

Employers have a reciprocal duty under the HCS. They must make sure that SDSs are not only received but are also readily accessible to all employees who might come into contact with hazardous chemicals during their work.

This is more than a mere distribution of documents; it involves implementing a system within the workplace whereby employees can quickly and easily find SDSs, typically through physical binders in central locations or through digital platforms.

The essence of these provisions is to foster a well-informed workplace where every individual knows the risks associated with the chemicals they work with and understands the precautions necessary to mitigate these risks.

By making SDSs a cornerstone of workplace safety, the HCS aims to reduce chemical-related injuries and illnesses, promoting a culture of safety and compliance across industries.

Safety Data Sheets in the European Union

In the European Union (EU), the management and communication of chemical hazards are governed by two key regulations: the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) and the Classification, Labelling, and Packaging (CLP) Regulation.

These regulations form the backbone of the EU’s strategy to ensure a high level of protection for human health and the environment from the risks that can be posed by chemicals.

Under REACH, which is detailed in Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006, the obligation to provide Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) rests primarily on manufacturers, importers, and downstream users of chemicals.

The critical aspect of REACH is its comprehensive nature; it requires that an SDS be provided for any substance or mixture supplied to professional users if it is classified as hazardous, regardless of the quantities involved.

This means that even small amounts of hazardous chemicals cannot circumvent the safety documentation requirements, ensuring that all potential risks are communicated effectively.

The SDSs under REACH must include information on the properties of the chemicals, their hazards, safe handling and storage instructions, and measures for first aid, accidental release, exposure control, and personal protection.

The goal is to ensure that all parties in the supply chain, especially those who handle the chemicals directly, are well-informed about how to manage these substances safely.

The CLP Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 complements REACH by establishing criteria for classifying and labelling chemicals based on their hazards.

This classification is crucial for determining the content of the SDSs, as it directly influences the hazard information that must be communicated.

Together, REACH and CLP create a robust regulatory framework that ensures chemicals are not only classified and labelled according to their hazards but also that comprehensive safety information is readily available through SDSs to all users within the EU.

This system promotes the safe use of chemicals, protecting workers, consumers, and the environment from potential harm.

Read article: General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) 2016 Explained

By Law, Who Is Responsible For Providing Safety Data Sheets?

While manufacturers, distributors, and importers are directly responsible for the creation and distribution of SDSs, it’s important to recognise the broader chain of responsibility.

Employers play a crucial role in this ecosystem. They must not only ensure that SDSs are accessible to employees but also that their workforce is adequately trained to understand and act upon the information contained within these documents.

Furthermore, the responsibility extends to continuous updates and monitoring. Whenever new information about a chemical’s hazard becomes available, the SDS must be updated accordingly.

This dynamic nature of safety data underscores the importance of an ongoing commitment to workplace safety and compliance.

A Collaborative Effort

The effective management of safety data sheets is, undeniably, a collaborative effort.

While legal obligations specify certain parties as the primary providers of SDSs, the spirit of these regulations emphasises a shared responsibility.

From manufacturers to end-users, ensuring the safety and health of workers is a collective duty.

What Is The Role Of National Authorities In Enforcing Safety Data Sheets Compliance?

National authorities play a crucial role in enforcing SDS compliance by conducting inspections, review documentation, and ensure that manufacturers, importers, and employers fulfil their obligations to provide accurate and accessible Safety Data Sheets.

National authorities also handle complaints, investigate violations, and can impose penalties for non-compliance, including fines or legal actions, to ensure workplace safety and protect public health and the environment from hazardous chemicals.

They oversee the implementation of regulations like OSHA in the US and REACH, CLP in the EU.

Can Manufacturers And Distributors Charge A Fee For Providing A Safety Data Sheets?

Manufacturers, distributors, or importers are typically not allowed to charge a fee for providing Safety Data Sheets.

The obligation to supply SDSs to downstream users, including employers and employees, without additional costs is a fundamental part of the regulatory framework designed to ensure workplace safety and the safe handling of hazardous chemicals.

Charging a fee for SDSs could hinder access to vital safety information, thereby compromising health and safety standards.

Compliance with these provisions is essential for maintaining a safe working environment.

Read article: What is Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA)? An Overview

Embracing Safety as a Culture

Beyond the legal mandates, the ethos of safety should be woven into the fabric of an organisation’s culture.

By fostering an environment where safety data sheets are not just seen as legal documents but as pillars of a safe workplace, businesses can go a long way in protecting their most valuable asset: their employees.

In conclusion, while the law clearly delineates who is responsible for providing safety data sheets, the real-world application of these regulations is a testament to the interconnectedness of all stakeholders in the realm of workplace safety.

It is a reminder that, at the end of the day, ensuring the well-being of those who power our economies is a collective journey, navigated through cooperation, commitment, and a shared vision of a safer tomorrow.


Picture of Ben Shaw-Parker, Ph.D.

Ben Shaw-Parker, Ph.D.

Ben is a university law professor. He has an LLM in Public International Law and a Doctorate in Humanitarian Law. Ben's specialty is in the area of Human Rights, Crime Law, Socio-legal Studies, Common Law, Comparative Law, Public Law and Environmental Law. He has contributed to several law journals.

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