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Introduction to Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)

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The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) is a critical document in the shipping and logistics industry, serving as a key tool to ensure the safe and compliant transportation of goods. These sheets provide a detailed breakdown of the components or substances within a shipment, establishing that these items do not fall under the dangerous goods (DG) category. Understanding the importance of MSDS is vital for anyone involved in the handling or shipping of potentially hazardous materials.

As global trade intensifies and regulatory demands become more stringent, the importance of MSDS is increasingly emphasised. To fully appreciate the role of MSDS, it's essential to first grasp the basics of DG classifications.

Understanding when an MSDS is required

Determining if a shipment requires an MSDS is crucial for ensuring safe and compliant transport. However, it's important to note that not every shipment requires an MSDS. This documentation is primarily essential for items that might be misinterpreted as DG, helping to clarify their classification and ensure alignment with international shipping laws.

The need for an MSDS often arises for items whose chemical or physical properties could pose potential risks in the midst of transportation, such as certain chemicals, electronics with batteries, or industrial products. By clearly outlining the contents and certifying their safety, an MSDS reduces risks and facilitates the smooth movement of goods.

Common commodities that require MSDS

Certain types of goods routinely call for the preparation of an MSDS due to their inherent properties and potential risks during transportation. Here are some examples:

  • Liquids: Many liquids require an MSDS because their chemical components might pose risks such as flammability, corrosiveness, or environmental hazards. For instance, liquids like industrial solvents or certain types of paint may be flammable, and without an MSDS detailing their properties and handling requirements, they could be dangerous to ship. The MSDS not only specifies the nature of the liquid but also prescribes safe packaging and handling procedures to mitigate any risks.
  • Electronics: Electronics often contain batteries, which are considered hazardous materials due to their potential to leak, overheat, or cause fires. An MSDS for electronics, particularly those with lithium-ion batteries, is crucial as it provides detailed information on the battery composition and safety measures necessary during transit. This ensures that electronics are transported under conditions that minimise the risk of incidents, adhering to strict transportation standards.
  • Powders: Shipping powders can be risky, especially if they are prone to combustion or react when exposed to air or moisture. An MSDS is essential for powders as it will detail the chemical stability and possible reactive nature of these substances. This is critical for ensuring that powders are packed and handled in a manner that prevents exposure to conditions that could trigger a dangerous reaction.

Given the importance of accurately documenting the properties and handling instructions of these goods, understanding how to properly obtain and submit an MSDS becomes crucial. 

Preparing and submitting an MSDS

As mentioned earlier, obtaining, or creating a MSDS is essential for ensuring safe and compliant shipping practices. Here's how to manage this process for commercial products or unique/custom-made items:

Commercial products

MSDS of commercial products, more often than not, are readily available and can be accessed through several avenues:

  • Manufacturer’s website: Most manufacturers provide the info on their websites. Look for a safety data sheet section where you can search for and download the relevant documents.
  • Contact the manufacturer: If the MSDS is not available online, contacting the manufacturer’s customer service or technical support can usually yield the document.
  • Third-party websites: Various platforms compile these documents for numerous products and can serve as a useful resource if direct sources are unavailable.

For unique or custom-made items

Creating an MSDS for a unique or custom-made product involves documenting detailed information about its material composition and safety measures:

  • List ingredients: Record all substances used in your product, focusing on chemicals, mixtures, and any other materials classified as hazardous.
  • Evaluate hazards: Determine the health, fire, reactivity, and environmental risks associated with the product’s components.
  • Develop safety procedures: Clearly describe how to handle, store, and dispose of the product safely, including emergency response actions.
  • Follow regulatory formats: Ensure your MSDS adheres to the formatting regulations required in your shipping destinations. This format typically includes comprehensive sections covering everything from ingredient details to emergency procedures.
  • Regular updates: Maintain the MSDS by reviewing and updating it whenever there are significant changes to the product or its use.

The role and consequences of MSDS in shipping

Ensuring the presence of an accurate and current MSDS is critical. Here are key aspects of its role and the potential consequences of not complying:

  • Shipper's responsibility: It is solely the shipper’s duty to provide and maintain a current MSDS that accurately documents product safety and handling details.
  • Up-to-date documentation: The MSDS must be kept up-to-date, with updates typically required every two to three years, to reflect any changes in the composition or safety protocols of the products.
  • Impact on shipping processes: An accurate MSDS is crucial for logistics providers to verify the nature of the goods and to determine the appropriate handling and transportation methods.
  • Consequences of non-compliance: Failure to provide a valid MSDS can result in significant delays, the need for cargo-only flights, more stringent security and customs inspections, as well as shipment rejections.
  • Need for accurate declarations: Precise and correct details in the MSDS are vital to expedite the delivery process and minimise the risk of delays and other logistical issues.

Safeguard your shipments with proper MSDS management

At DHL Express, we understand the critical importance of complete and accurate MSDS for maintaining the highest standards of safety and compliance in international shipping. Here’s how we manage situations when shipments destined for overseas markets arrive without the required MSDS documentation:

  • Policy enforcement: If a shipment lacks proper MSDS documentation, we take decisive action. We may hold, reject, or return the shipment, depending on the specifics. This strict policy ensures safe and compliant transport across borders.
  • Expert support: Our team of DG and MSDS specialists are dedicated to providing expert advice and support. Their expertise is crucial for navigating the complexities of shipping regulations, ensuring every shipment meets our stringent safety requirements.
  • Commitment to safety: Upholding the highest standards of safety and compliance is fundamental at DHL Express. We ensure that both shippers and recipients can trust in the secure handling of their shipments. 


Ready to enhance your shipping processes and ensure compliance? Sign up for a business account today and gain exclusive access to our specialised services, personalised support, and comprehensive guidance. Enhance your global logistics experience with DHL Express — where safety and efficiency meet.