OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.

July 2, 1986

Mr. Frank J. Karasinski
Safety & Loss Prevention Manager
FMC Corporation
2000 Market Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103

Dear Mr. Karasinski:

This is in response to your letter of May 29 concerning the labeling requirements of the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), 29 CFR 190.1200.

Your letter raises questions about the visibility of labels on shipments of palletized bags. The purpose of a label is to provide an immediate visual warning to employees before a potential exposure to the products contents occur. Additionally the label identity serves as a point of cross reference with the material safety data sheet.

The standard's intent is met as long as the placement of the label permits it to be seen before employees are potentially exposed to the hazardous chemical. If for instance the product is flammable or shock sensitive then the label warnings must be visible before handling, so that special care if necessary, can be taken. On the other hand, for a product that only presents a toxicity hazard when a bag is opened then a label that is visible when the bag is readied for opening is acceptable.

As you can see proper placement of labels is dependent on a product characteristics and the ways and means employees may be exposed to them. Labeling therefore must be considered on a case by case basis. Obviously however, the more visible a label the better the chance that it will he effective.

We hope the above information will assist you in your HCS compliance activities. Please contact us again if further assistance is needed.


John B. Miles, Jr., Director
Directorate of Field Operations

May 29, 1986

Mr. John Miles
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Room N-3606
Washington, D.C. 20210

Dear Mr. Miles:

I discussed today with Mr. Roy Gibbs the labeling requirements of the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard.

FMC manufactures sodium carbonate and ships it both in bulk and bagged form. On the bags all of the printed information is on one side, including the hazard statement and first-aid information.

Recently one of the distributors that FMC sells bagged sodium carbonate to on pallets was visiting one of his customers to whom he resells our soda ash (in the same FMC bags and on the same pallets). There is shrink-wrap around the bags on the pallets to hold them in place. Due to the nature of PMC's automatic palletizing equipment, the bags of sodium carbonate are placed on the pallet face down. Therefore the printed information, including the hazard statement, is not visible on any of the bags until the shrink wrap is removed and a bag is turned over.

An OSHA inspector happened to be at the location of the customer of our distributor. The inspector told the customer that the bags were not labeled properly since the hazard warming was not visible when the pallet was in an intact condition -- that is, with the shrink-wrap around it. There was not a question as to the content of the hazard warning. Apparently the inspector feels that additional labeling should be on each bag or on the wrapping of the pallet. Our customer has canceled their orders from us.

Sodium carbonate does not have a significant health hazard except for being an irritant in Certain Situations. In my discussion with Mr. Gibbs, he said that recently questions had arisen on the same issue. His initial interpretation was that due to the low degree of hazard of sodium carbonate, PMC was in compliance with HCS.

I would appreciate a written interpretation as soon as possible on this labeling issue so that we can give a satisfactory answer to our customer and also be in full compliance with the Standard.

Sincerely yours,

Frank J. Karasinski
Safety & Loss Prevention Manager