The Difference Between COSHH Assessments and Safety Data Sheets (SDS)

Do you know the difference between a safety data sheet and a COSSH assessment, and why both are necessary to assess the risks involved when working with a hazardous substance.

What is a SDS

SDS stands for Safety data sheets. They provide information on chemical products that help users of those chemicals to make a risk assessment. They describe the hazards the chemical presents and give information on handling, storage and emergency measures in case of an accident.

Difference between MSDS and SDS sheets

Many people may still be familiar with Material Data sheets or MSDS. The old MSDSs could follow any number of different formats, and could include different kinds of information with different levels of detail. The SDS format is much stricter, it is made up of sixteen sections, and each section includes specific information using a standardized classification method.

COSHH Assessments AND Safety Data Sheets (SDS)

The COSHH Regulations provide a framework to protect people at work against health risks that may arise from work activities that expose them to hazardous substances. The control measures requisite to prevent harm are documented in the form of a COSHH assessment. It’s a common misconception that risk assessment is the identification of the hazardous properties of a substance; the hazardous properties of a substance constitute its potential to cause harm, while the risk is the likelihood that it will cause harm in the actual circumstances of use.

An assessor must appreciate the difference between these two concepts. The purpose of a chemical risk assessment (the COSHH assessment) is to ensure that a valid decision is made about the control measures which should to be taken to prevent or control exposure to substances hazardous to health. In practical terms, a risk assessment will demonstrate that suitable and sufficient judgement has been taken to reach these.

A pragmatic, common sense approach should be adopted with regard to writing assessments. The principle behind a risk assessment is that it should enable a person undertaking an activity (whatever their expertise) to:

  • Understand the hazards and subsequent risks of substances used in the activity,
  • Appreciate the necessity to implement appropriate control measures to minimize the risk to health.
  • Identify such control measures and know how to implement them (such as using engineering controls or personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Know what to do when something goes wrong (first aid procedures, spillage requirements, etc.)

Safety data sheets alone do not constitute a risk assessment, but are merely the starting reference point for such an assessment, as the SDS only gives you information about the substance itself – you must assess the risk from use of the substance in the actual work activity, including amounts, concentrations etc. They contain important information as to the health and safety hazards posed by chemicals/substances, required exposure control measures, first aid requirements, spillage containment, safe disposal requirements and so forth. The COSHH assessor uses this information so that they have the facts necessary to prevent and control exposure to these hazards.