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Each person involved in handling dangerous substances or preparations should be provided with written instructions on the properties of the chemicals, including illustrations and pictograms. These safety instructions and information should be collected and stored in a place easily accessible at the workplace.

Every chemical container and package in the workplace, no matter how small or big, should have an appropriate, clearly understandable label.

Due to the lack of space, the information on the label on each container or package is often incomplete. It is, therefore, necessary to have access to more detailed information or instructions for the safe use of chemicals.

A chemical safety data sheet provides the following basic information about the chemical:

  1. Identification : 
    • Name of the substance or preparation 
    • Name, address and telephone number of the company/supplier/undertaking 
  2. Composition and information on ingredients 
  3. Hazards identification 
  4. First-aid measures 
  5. Fire-fighting measures 
  6. Spillage, accidental release measures 
  7. Handling and storage 
  8. Exposure controls and personal protection 
  9. Physical and chemical properties 
  10. Stability and reactivity 
  11. Toxicological information 
  12. Ecological information 
  13. Disposal considerations 
  14. Transport information 
  15. National regulations and references 
  16. Other information 
Chemical safety data sheets should be available within the enterprise for every chemical substance that has been classified as hazardous. They should also be available for preparations (products) containing any of the hazardous substances as components.

Chemical safety data sheets are published under several names, such as:

  • international chemical safety card, ICSC 
  • chemical safety card 
  • chemical info-sheet 
  • material safety data sheet, MSDS 
  • product safety data sheet 
  • health and safety data 
  • safety data sheet. 
There are two different types of chemical safety data sheets:
  • chemical safety data sheets prepared by working groups of experts containing information based on laboratory tests and checked knowledge. 
  • chemical safety data sheets prepared by the manufacturer or retailer. 
Validated data sheets on pure substances are available, e.g., from the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) or from national institutions such as the Canadian Centre for Occupational Safety and Health. These can be used by manufacturers as basic information sources when they create chemical safety data sheets for their own products. They can also be used on the shopfloor by workers handling the dangerous substances, for example solvents in paint factories, in metal workshops to deal with degreasing baths and in laundries for washing solvents, detergents, etc.

In several countries the manufacturer or importer has an obligation to provide chemical safety data sheets on dangerous, classified substances and preparations for industrial users: this includes all products containing components dangerous to human health, the environment or property.

How to compile a chemical safety data sheet

The sheet should provide information in a clear and concise manner, preferably in the form of standard phrases. Additional information may be necessary in some cases in view of the wide range of properties of the substances and preparations. If information on certain properties of the substance or preparation is of no significance or is technically impossible to provide, the reasons for this should be clearly stated.

When a safety data sheet is revised, the changes should be brought to the attention of the recipient of the substance or preparation. For example, when a dangerous solvent in paint is changed to a less hazardous one without changing other qualities or the name of the paint, a new safety data sheet should be prepared to go with the revised formula of the paint to the user.

The following notes are intended as a guide to the compilation of a chemical safety data sheet when choosing the information to be included.

1. Identification of the substance/preparation and the company/undertaker

The names and terms used for identification must be the same as those used on the actual label. There should be a specific identifier, such as a series of numbers and/or letters, for preparations which have the same name, in order to distinguish, for example, paints of different colours.

The name, address and telephone number of the manufacturer, importer or distributor are important for further information inquiries and are in many countries required by law.

2. Composition/information on ingredients

The information on the ingredients enables the user to identify readily the relevant risks. For preparations it is not necessary to reveal the full composition. However, substances which are known to present a health hazard and substances for which an exposure limit value has been given should be included in the safety data sheet with an indication of the concentration range (for example, the substances listed in `Identification, Classification and Labelling of Dangerous Chemicals', Annex 4)

To identify the possible hazards of a substance, its chemical name should be compared with preferred names of dangerous substances from existing lists or data bases.

To identify the ingredient substances of a preparation other information besides the name of the substance may be included, for example, the Chemical Abstract Service number (CAS No) and/or the number given in the Register of Toxic Effects of Chemical Substances (RTECS) number and/or the number given in the European Inventory of Existing Commercial Chemical Substances (EINECS).

Even if certain substances are to be kept confidential, their chemical nature and the potential hazards associated with that substance should be described. They should also have an unambiguous generic name.

3. Hazard identification

Under this heading should be given brief and clear descriptions of the most important hazards the substance or the preparation creates for man, the environment or property.

Also the most important adverse human health effects and symptoms should be listed here. Furthermore, these should all be related to the use and possible misuse that can reasonably be foreseen.

This information should be compatible with that shown on the product label but need not repeat it.

4. First aid measures

Describe the first aid measures, i.e. the actions to be taken immediately in case of overexposure to the chemical.

If immediate medical attention is required, it should be specified here.

Subdivide the information according to the different routes of exposure under different subheadings:

    • exposure by inhalation 
    • exposure by skin and eye contact 
    • ingestion 
For some substances or preparations, special means should be available at the workplace to provide specific and immediate treatment. This should be mentioned under this heading. For example, workplaces handling hydrogen sulphide should have protective equipment in case of an emergency. Equipment for first aid treatment should be available and there should be training in its use.

5. Firefighting

The information provided here can be used to plan appropriate fire and emergency procedures.

Indicate suitable extinguishing media, as well as incompatible extinguishing media that must not be used. For example in fires of organic solvents, such as toluene, foam, carbon dioxide or dry chemical, but not water, should be used.

Mention special exposure hazards caused by the substance or preparation, such as combustion products or released gases. The need for firefighters' special protective equipment should be specified, if necessary.

6. Spillage, accidental release

Describe here the relevant personal precautions based on the properties of the substance or the preparation. Precautions include the removal of ignition sources, control of dust, and prevention of skin or eye contact. Environmental precautions, such as keeping run-off away from drains, and the possible need to alert the neighbourhood, should be included. Methods for clean-up, such as spraying of gases/fumes with water, dilution or use of absorbent material (sand, acid binder, sawdust...), should be placed here.

Consider the need for indications such as `never use', `neutralize with ...'.

7. Handling and storage

(See also section on Transport and Storage)

Consider precautions to ensure safe handling and to advise the reader on technical measures, such as local and general ventilation, measures to prevent aerosol and dust formation, procedures or equipment which are prohibited or recommended, and, if possible, give a brief description of such procedures and/or equipment as electrical grounding of containers for flammable liquids.

Consider also the conditions for safe storage, such as incompatible materials, storage temperature and humidity limit/range, light, inert gas and others. Pay attention to special electrical equipment and prevention of static electricity, and specific design for storage rooms or vessels.

Give advice if needed on quantity limits for storage (compare with the list of chemicals with the potential to cause major hazards and the threshold quantities suggested there). In particular, indicate any special requirements such as the type of material to be used for the packing/container.

8. Exposure controls/personal protection

Exposure control means here the full range of precautionary measures to be taken during the use of dangerous, classified substances and preparations needed in order to minimize worker exposure.

Engineering measures should always precede personal protection. Information about system design, such as the need to enclose the process, which completes that already given under item 7, should be included here.

Information on recommended monitoring procedures (with the reference indicated) should also be provided here.

Where personal protection is needed, specify the type of equipment that provides adequate and suitable protection:

  • for respiratory protection specify adequate masks and the filter type 
  • for eye protection specify the type of protective equipment, such as safety glasses, safety goggles, face shield 
  • for hand protection specify the type and material of gloves to be worn when handling the substance or preparation. An example of the importance of choosing the right material is that polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) provides good protection against toluene diisocyanate but offers poor resistance to trichloroethylene. 
  • for skin protection specify the type and quality of equipment required, such as an apron, boots or full protective suit. Indicate also the specific hygiene measures, such as eating or smoking prohibition during handling, or washing methods. 

9. Physical and chemical properties

The following information is important regarding the description of the properties of the substance or preparation. Add this whenever applicable.
Appearance: -indicate physical state (solid, liquid, gas), and colour.
Odour: -if odour is perceptible, give a brief description
pH: -to provide an indication of acidic or alkaline (basic) properties, give the pH of the substance or preparation as supplied or that of an aqueous solution (in the latter case indicate the concentration).

pH is expressed on a scale from 0 to 14, which can be divided into the following ranges: 

  • pH 0-2 Strongly acidic 
  • pH 3-5 Weakly acidic 
  • pH 6-8 Neutral 
  • pH 9-10 Weakly basic 
  • pH 12-14 Strongly basic 
Substances or preparations with pH values 0-2 or 11.5-14 may be classified as corrosive.
Boiling point/boiling range: -specify here the temperature at which the material changes from liquid to gas. If it decomposes without boiling, the temperature at which it decomposes may be given with the abbreviation `dec.'.
Melting point/melting range: -indicate the temperature at which the solid material changes to a liquid
Flash point: -the lowest temperature at which a liquid or solid produces enough vapour to form a flammable air-vapour mixture near its surface so that it can be ignited by a spark or flame at atmospheric pressure.
Flammability: -describes the ability of the material to ignite and burn readily. A liquid or solid with a flash point above 21°C but less than 55°C is flammable.

Highly flammable relates to substances or preparations with a flash point above 0°C but below 21°C, as well as to solids spontaneously flammable in air or which may readily ignite after brief contact with source of ignition and which continue to burn after removal of the source of ignition.

Extremely flammable relates to liquids which have a flash point below 0°C and a boiling point below 35°C, and to flammable gases when liquified.

Autoflammability: -some materials have the feature of igniting in air in the absence of a spark or flame. The auto-ignition temperature can be found in the literature.
Explosive properties: -specify, if appropriate, the concentrations for the lower and upper explosion limits. This is usually in volume percentage of air, for example, for xylene 1.1-7.0%, and for benzene 1.2-8.0%.
Oxidizing properties: -substances and preparations which can generate and maintain heat producing chemical reaction with other materials, especially burning flammable material.
Vapour pressure: -describes the tendency of a material to form a vapour. It is used e.g. for estimating the inhalation or fire hazards. Vapour pressure is expressed usually at the temperature of 20°C.
Relative density: -the density of the substance or preparation compared to the density of water (= 1). This figure indicates whether the substance floats in water or sinks (when the relative density is more than 1).
Solubility: -indicate here the solubility in water. If the solubility is not accurately known describe with words such as: poor, moderate, miscible,...
Partition coefficient: - the ratio of the solubility of a substance or preparation in n-octanol to that in water.
Other data: provide here data relevant for safety aspects, such as vapour density, evaporation rate, conductivity, viscosity, etc.

10. Stability and reactivity

State the stability of the substance or preparation and the possibility of hazardous reactions occurring under certain conditions. List the conditions which should be avoided, such as high or low temperatures, pressure, light and shock effects, which may cause a dangerous reaction and if possible include a brief description of these.

List also the materials which may cause a dangerous reaction if they come into contact with the substance or preparation concerned, such as water, air, acids, bases, oxidizing agents, etc.

List materials which may be produced in dangerous quantities upon decomposition.

Indicate specifically the need for the presence of stabilizers or the possibility of a hazardous heat-producing reaction. Specify also the safety significance, if relevant, of a change in the physical appearance, e.g., colour. Also state the hazardous decomposition products, if any, formed upon contact with water, and the possibility of degradation to unstable products.

11. Toxicological information

This section deals with the need for concise but complete and comprehensible description of the various health effects which may arise.

Use data on health effects based on both experiences and conclusions from scientific studies and on validated existing data sheets.

Include information on the possible routes of exposure (inhalation, ingestion, skin and eye contact), and describe the symptoms related to the physical, chemical and toxicological properties.

Include known immediate and delayed effects and also chronic effects from both short- and long-term exposure. These include allergy or cancer, potential mutagenic and reproductive health hazards, and narcotic effects.

Refer, if relevant, to the information under heading `2. Composition/information on ingredients' and to specific health effects of certain components in the preparation.

12. Ecological information

This section contains an assessment of the possible effects, behaviour and environmental fate of the substance or preparation.

Describe the most important features that may have an impact on the environment:

  • mobility 
  • persistence and degradability 
  • bioaccumulative potential 
  • aquatic toxicity and other data, such as behaviour of the substance or preparation in sewage works. 
Pay special attention to the properties of substances classified as being dangerous to the environment and which are present in the preparation, such as aerosols that contain halogenated hydrocarbons hazardous to the ozone layer.

13. Disposal considerations

Provide descriptions of safe methods of disposal of surplus or waste resulting from foreseeable use. The dangers involved in their disposal should also be considered.

Indicate appropriate methods of disposal, e.g., incineration, recycling, landfill, both for the substance or preparation and for any contaminated packing.

Refer to the provisions related to waste. It is useful to remind the user that national or regional provisions may be in force.

14. Transport information

Indicate any special precautions with which the user might need to comply if the substance or preparation is transported within or outside his premises.

Refer to additional information provided by the United Nations Recommendations on Transport of Dangerous Goods and other international agreements on the transport and packing requirements of dangerous goods.

Mention the UN transport hazard class and packing group when appropriate.

15. Regulatory information

Local recommendations and national laws can be referred to under this section.

16. Other information

Indicate any other information which may be of importance for safety and health such as training advice, recommended uses and restrictions and sources of key data used to compile the data sheet in question.

Give the date when the data sheet was issued, if this is not stated elsewhere.



  • Do you have the right card for the chemical with which you are working or will be working? 
  • Do you have an up-to-date card? 


  • Can this chemical explode? 
  • Is this chemical unstable? If so, under which conditions? 
  • Can this material react with other chemicals? If so, which ones? Is there a possibility of mixing during storage? 
  • Can this chemical harm your health? Do you know the symptoms which may warn you of overexposure? 


  • Does your worksite need engineering controls? 
  • Does this material require special handling precautions? 
  • Do you need protective equipment? 
  • Do you need to be careful when mixing this chemical with any other chemicals? 
  • Does this material require special storage conditions? 


  • Do you know what to do in case of a fire or explosion? 
  • Do you know the fire extinguishing method for this chemical? 
  • Do you know the first aid measures needed in case of an overexposure? 
  • Do you know what to do in case of a spill or leak? 
  • Do you know where the emergency response equipment is and how to use it? 


CALLAGHAN J.M., DUMSCHAT C.J. and WHITING R.F., The Material Safety Data Sheet, A Basic Guide for Users, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, Hamilton 1987

CIS, Finnish National Board of Labour Protection, Machine Translated Finnish Chemical Safety Information Sheets

91/155/EEC Commission Directive of 5 March 1991 defining and laying down the detailed arrangements for the system of specific information relating to dangerous preparations in implementation of Article 10 of Directive 88/379/EEC

ILO, International Labour Organisation, Code of Practice on Safety in the Use of Chemicals at Work, Geneva 1992

ILO, International Labour Organisation, Convention No. 170 Concerning Safety in the Use of Chemicals at Work, Geneva 1990

ILO, International Labour Organisation, Recommendation No. 177 Concerning Safety in the Use of Chemicals at Work, Geneva 1990

ILO, International Labour Organisation, Encyclopedia of Occupational Health and Safety, Vol I - III, Geneva 1983

IPCS, International Programme on Chemical Safety and CEC, Commission of the European Communities, International Chemical Safety Cards, 1988-1993

LEPPÄNEN M., RASA P.-L., Basic Safety Training Package on OSH, CIS 1992

National Board of Labour Protection, Finland, Dangerous Chemicals Classification, Warning Labelling, Material Safety Data Sheets, 1991

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Updated by AS. Approved by EC. Last update: 30.11.2004.