If you do not have your Safety Data Sheets updated and an accident happens or an inspection occurs, your organization and employees could face serious physical and financial repercussions. Digital SDS management gives you peace of mind while saving time and money.
By Caroline Sharples

Hazard communication is consistently ranked among OSHA’s top violations. Last year, it was the fifth most frequently cited issue. The Hazard Communication umbrella is wide and covers everything from training employees to labeling chemicals properly. It also requires employees to keep Safety Data Sheets (SDS), which inform employees of all the potential hazards they could encounter when dealing with chemicals or substances and how to address or treat those hazards.

The SDS includes information about the properties of each chemical, the physical, health, and environmental health hazards, protective measures, and all safety precautions for handling, storing, and transporting the chemical. Employees are required to have immediate access to the information without leaving their work area.

SMS360 is more than a collection of PDFs, it creates a page for each product with the first aid information highlighted at the top, followed by bullet-pointed handling, storage, and PPE advice. It also specifies which facility locations are using the product and how long it has been in use. This ensures that employees can quickly comprehend the necessary information.
Images courtesy of Safety Management Systems.


Search for products quickly and sort them by location or manufacturer. When you click on an SDS, safety managers can easily view which locations use that product and the length of time it has been in use.


Traditionally, SDSs are kept filed in a binder, which is retrieved in the event of an incident or OSHA inspection. Now many companies are taking advantage of digital SDS management tools that improve SDS sourcing, SDS retrieval, and SDS storage.
Paper-based Binders Make it Difficult to Fulfill the Employee’s Right to Understand In the decades since the binder method was first implemented, both technology and the OSHA standard have improved. The OSHA standard regarding hazard communication originally specified that the employee had the “Right to Know.” Now, the regulation specifies that employees have the “Right to Understand.” This means employers should not only be able to provide safety information, but they also need to ensure that employees can easily comprehend it. This change was made after OSHA studies found that employees did not understand approximately one-third of the safety and health information listed on the SDSs.

Because most of the incidents that require SDS consultation are time-sensitive, it is crucial that employees can find the first aid information instantly. If an employee spills a hazardous substance on themselves, they need to get access to the SDS and understand the best way to treat the incident in a matter of seconds. Most SDSs contain multiple pages of ingredients and technical terms—some are more than 10 pages. This makes finding and understanding the pertinent information difficult. The ideal solution is a digital SDS binder that extracts the First Aid information from the PDFs so employees can read it first in the event of an emergency instead of having to scroll through multi-page PDFs.

Another aspect of the right to understand information is language. Most organizations have employees whose first language is not English. OSHA only requires SDSs to be provided in English, but multi-lingual capabilities could play a big role in reducing the severity of an incident. The quicker an employee can read, process, and understand the SDS, the quicker the incident is able to be resolved. A matter of seconds is enough to stop a mild injury from becoming a permanent one. The injury’s severity not only affects the employee’s livelihood, but also the length of time they are unable to work or the size of the worker’s compensation fees.

Some digital SDS management tools automatically upload the SDS in all the available languages provided by the manufacturer. On a digital platform, it is also much quicker to auto-translate the page or copy and paste snippets into a translator, even if the manufacturer did not provide alternative language options.


With the click of one button, SMS360 users can print their entire new, updated SDS binder. If safety managers reprint the physical binders regularly, it is far easier to ensure they are up-to-date. SMS360 also provides users with an external link to their SDS portal that requires no login. This way, employees do not need to waste time or worry about finding credentials.


Do Not Waste Time Worrying About Expired SDSs
Improper management is frequent with SDSs because there is a lot of upkeep associated with them. They must be replaced every three years, with each sheet expiring at different times, depending on the manufacturers. Updating them is a lengthy process. Some SDS providers will go a step further and update the SDSs for you. This eliminates the cost of having an employee constantly checking SDS expiration dates and putting in requests for new ones. For a normal company, the process of tracking down an SDS could take weeks, if not months. With a digital SDS provider, they can watch the SDSs constantly and factor in a buffer time to ensure the new SDSs are updated on time.

It is also difficult to ensure compliance when working with multiple locations, especially when each has different chemicals. This could lead to redundancies and repeat work. Manufacturers are constantly reformulating their products and every time a new
version is released, the SDSs change. To stay compliant, someone in your operation must check for updates frequently so the most recent SDS is on file. Obtaining updated SDSs is also easier said than done. Sometimes it requires multiple e-mails and phone call follow-ups with manufacturers. This task can be tedious and might seem like a waste of time since OSHA’s surprise inspections and hazardous spills are rare. However, in the event you need to pull an SDS and the page you have on file is outdated, the results could be catastrophic.

Companies also must store SDSs for 30 years. This means an organization must have a copy of an SDS for every single product used in their facility in the past 30 years. Even if a product was only used for a month and is no longer used, the SDS must be kept on file. That quantity of SDSs takes up a lot of space and could be hard to sort through in the event of an inspection or accident. A digital SDS binder llows you to type a few words in the search bar and instantly get results. Not only does this save time and space, but it also allows employees to access the SDSs from anywhere.

Inefficient SDS Management Can Be Catastrophic
Failing to comply with Hazard Communication standards can lead to serious consequences. If an employee comes in contact with a hazardous chemical and they are not able to find information on how to treat it quickly, their life could be at risk.
Improper SDS management can also have severe financial impacts. If an employee is injured and unable to work, employers must deal with lost time, training or hiring a new employee, paying worker’s compensation fees, and more. Even if an injury does not occur, OSHA could come across your updated SDS binder and fine you. In 2021, OSHA gave out 2,296 Hazard Communication citations, which amounted to $3.17 million in fines. Getting a surprise inspection is not likely, but when it does happen, the price of being prepared is far less than the price of getting caught.

It Is Time to Go Digital
Implementing new technologies is admittedly a difficult task—especially in companies with aging workforces who cling to their tried-and-true methods. The great thing about digital SDS management is that users can keep physical binders on site. Managers can reprint the updated digital binder straight from the portal, rather than individually printing each new SDS.

In compliance, it is easy for tasks that are not immediate to get pushed to the wayside. SDSs often fall in this category. Like doing taxes, they are an issue that only affects you when something is done wrong. If you get audited and your taxes were done i
incorrectly, you could be in big trouble. In the same way, if you do not have your SDSs updated and an accident happens or an inspection occurs, your organization and employees could face serious physical and financial repercussions. Digital SDS management gives you peace of mind while saving time and money. It is better to be safe than sorry, and it is even better to have someone else doing the hard work so you do not have to. | WA

Caroline Sharpless is Director of Marketing for SMS360, an EHS software platform that digitizes regulatory compliance and safety management. The team behind SMS360 has decades of experience in the waste industry and safety sphere. Companies across the globe use SMS360 to identify costly risk, operational inefficiencies, and compliance pitfalls. She can be reached at (203) 838-8877 or e-mail [email protected].