SOPs vs. SDSs


Why should labs have a standard operating procedure (SOP) for a chemical when the manufacturer safety data sheet (SDS) is available?

Both documents are “required” in the lab but offer different types of important information about a chemical. SDSs can be a good source of information when assessing risks associated with the storage, use, and transport of a chemical or product, whereas an SOP gives the researcher detailed lab-specific information for handling of a chemical at every stage of its presence in the lab.

Safety data sheets are documents written and required by manufacturers and distributors of products. The Washington State and federal workplace safety regulations requires SDSs to be available to personnel when hazardous materials are in the workplace. State and federal rules also require that SDSs are also available to local fire departments and local and state emergency planning officials.

Content provided in SDSs varies and in some cases is inadequate to identify all hazards and risks, but the standard format includes the following:

  • Section 1: Identification
  • Section 2: Hazard(s) identification
  • Section 3: Composition/information on ingredients
  • Section 4: First-aid measures
  • Section 5: Fire-fighting measures
  • Section 6: Accidental release measures
  • Section 7: Handling and storage
  • Section 8: Exposure controls/personal protection 
  • Section 9: Physical and chemical properties
  • Section 10: Stability and reactivity reactions
  • Section 11: Toxicological information
  • Section 12-16: Additional/Other information

Standard operating procedures are written instructions that detail the steps to be performed during a given experimental procedure and include information about potential hazards, consequences and the necessary controls to manage the potential risks. SOPs are required by Washington Administrative Code to be developed and maintained by individual laboratories, and should be written by laboratory personnel who are most knowledgeable and involved with the experimental process.

An SOP can cover the usage of a particular chemical, the usage of a class of chemicals or a procedure involving specific chemicals. They must contain, at a minimum, the following:

  • Description of the chemical(s) and/or laboratory procedure that will be performed
  • Known hazards and potential routes of exposure
  • Specific personal protective equipment (PPE) required
  • Environmental/ventilation controls
  • Special handling procedures and specific storage requirements
  • Location of use in the lab
  • Spill and accident procedure details
  • Decontamination procedures
  • Waste disposal procedures and locations
  • Special precautions for animal use (if applicable)
  • Required approvals

Who provides these tools for you to use in your lab?

SDSs are provided by the chemical’s vendor and are centralized online in MyChem whereas SOPs require someone working in your lab to research and write them.

If a new chemical will be produced by a lab or during an experiment, an SDS may not be available for it, but the lab can still have a detailed SOP for the new agent. An advantage that SOPs offer over SDSs is that they contain information specific to the lab and the actions required of your lab personnel to prevent an exposure or accident.

Chemical Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

If you operate a chemical laboratory as defined in Washington Administrative Code 296-828, Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories, you must have SOPs that describe the safety measures you require when using chemicals. Please see Section 6 of the UW Laboratory Safety Manual for more information about SOPs. The minimum safety elements are found on the SOP Required Elements Checklist.

To assist you in writing SOPs, EH&S has provided a blank SOP form (doc) and examples for you to use or to modify to your specific location and procedures and use. An SOP can address a single chemical, a group of similar chemicals, or a process. Any format of SOP is acceptable provided the minimum safety elements are addressed.