Center for Asbestos Safety

What Are Material Safety Data Sheets?

Material safety data sheets (abbreviated "MSDS") are documents that detail vital information about hazardous chemicals. The purpose of an MSDS is to provide individuals with all pertinent properties relating to a specific chemical so that it may be handled, manufactured and disposed of safely. Employees and laboratory employees who work with hazardous materials on a regular basis primarily use material safety data sheets. Emergency personnel such as fire fighters, ambulance responders and emergency room workers are also frequent users.

MSDS Regulations

In the United States, the availability of MSDS sheets in occupational environments where hazardous chemicals are present is required by law and monitored by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This law was instituted on May 26, 1986. Many other developed nations impose similar MSDS requirements, although an internationally standardized format is not currently enforced.

Information Included in an MSDS

While certain information for each hazardous material is required to be included on its material safety data sheet, OSHA does not mandate a specified format. As such, it is up to the manufacturer of the chemical to format the MSDS document and include any important physical or compositional details as they see fit.

However, in an effort to promote uniformity OSHA does recommend a 16-section format circulated by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). In general, this format attempts to place the most time-sensitive data (such as first aid information) towards the top of the document for quick access. General chemical properties, such as boiling point, melting point and flash point are typically found near the end of the document.

The recommended 16-section format for material safety data sheets is as follows:

For those who would like to view a completed 16-section document, OSHA offers an example MSDS listing for the hazardous chemical caustic soda at the following link:

Who Can Create MSDS Documents?

No certification or other requirements are necessary to create an MSDS. As such, anyone can legally compose a material safety data sheet. However, considerable expertise is often required to ensure all legal responsibilities and chemical accuracies are in place. As such, chemical manufacturers often employ dedicated experts to draw up their MSDS forms. For guidance on writing an MSDS, it is recommended that the individual review OSHA's material safety data sheet regulations. offers a comprehensive list of these regulations:

How to Check for MSDS Completeness

Due to the sheer volume of chemicals requiring documentation, OSHA does not review official MSDS forms (unless an investigation or inspection is requested). Therefore, it is the responsibility of the user to review each MSDS for completeness. Oklahoma State University offers a comprehensive checklist for users to help determine if an MSDS document is complete and accurate:

Where to Find Material Safety Data Sheets

MSDS sheets on specific chemicals are widely available and should be easy to acquire. Manufacturers typically include the MSDS form in the shipping container along with the substance. Commercial services are also available when additional hard copies are needed.

Individuals may also view MSDS sheets online for free. Chemical manufacturers usually post MSDS documentation to their corporate websites. Numerous MSDS databases are also available, allowing for simple access to chemical forms regardless of manufacturer. One of the most popular free online databases is the MSDS Xchange:

Oxford University publishes a safety datasheet for asbestos.

Center for Asbestos
Safety in the Workplace