All workers are expected to read and understand Safety Data Sheets (SDS) before undertaking tasks to handle, store or use chemicals in the workplace. Will reading the SDS prevent chemical exposure and ensure risk controls are effective? Yes is not the answer for reasons too numerous to include here, as chemicals are used in ways that vary based on application, workers assess risk based upon individual understanding and the personal protective equipment (PPE) specified on some SDS could have a conscientious worker wanting to locate the supply of space suits just to operate an aerosol can of fly spray.

Folders with current (<5 years old) SDS and an up to date chemical register are a starting point for preventing chemical exposure and risk control. Use of commercially available electronic chemical management systems with worker usability included as part of the interface will assist with maintaining an accurate chemical register with features that typically include storage compatibility guidance, online video training support and preformatted risk assessment modules that can be customised for individual workplace chemical applications.

Engineering isolation and PPE are common risk controls found in an SDS, with PPE of varying complexity specified for all but the most pH neutral and inert chemicals. The SDS provides a wealth of pertinent and often well organized information to the informed user of the SDS document. Some workers may favour the product and safety information included on the chemical container, to the exclusion of any debate about the likely effectiveness of Global Harmonised System (GHS) pictograms versus established dangerous good class labelling that may not be large enough to be legible, let alone understood. Presentation of summarized SDS information in the area of use at the workplace provides the opportunity to include local procedures for the safe handling, storage and use of chemicals.

Look over the SDS for the chemicals that are used in your workplace and you may eliminate a hazard, substitute the chemical with a less hazardous product option or prevent chemical exposure with the enhanced knowledge of chemical exposure risks.


NOHSC (2004). Approved criteria for classifying hazardous substances (3rd ed.). Canberra, Australia.

Safe Work Australia (2011). Model code of practice – Preparation of safety data sheets for hazardous substances. Canberra, Australia.


  1. We have a central hardcopy SDS folder in each and in specific storage locations only.

    Last week our electronic system went down for more than 24 hours – A reminder of the ‘e-chem’ limitations.

  2. Workers are at risk of chemical exposure across so many different work environments and the best a quickest source of information is the SDS. In the hard copy form can sometimes be very labour intensive to manage especially if you have many chemicals. We have moved to an electronic version of SDS management which given us greater control and accessibility to this vital information for all staff.

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