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.

January 19, 1989

Mr. Paul W. Davis
Western Suppliers Association
Suite 204 1777 Borel Place
San Mateo, California 94402

Dear Mr. Davis:

This is in response to your letter of November 8, 1988, regarding the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). Please accept my apology for the delay in response.

The HCS requires distributors to ensure that material safety data sheets (MSDS) and updated information are provided to other distributors and employers. The standard requires distributors to provide MSDS with the first shipment of hazardous chemicals to employers after September 23, 1987. Non-manufacturing employers were to be in compliance with all provisions of the standard, including having a MSDS for each hazardous chemical they use by May 23, 1988. OSHA extended the enforcement date, however, to August 1, 1988, as a result of a United States Court of Appeals decision which was unclear as to the extent of a granted stay of enforcement of the HCS. The court eventually clarified the application of the stay of enforcement only to the construction industry. Distributors were not obligated to provide MSDS during the stay. With the lifting of the stay distributors were again required to provide MSDS with next shipment of hazardous chemicals to employers on or after August 1, 1988, if a material safety data sheet had not previously been sent.

The HCS does not prohibit distributors for asking their customers to pay for the cost of providing MSDS. The standard states that distributor shall ensure that material safety data sheets are provided to other distributors and employers. However, a distributor cannot break the established link between the requirement to provide A MSDS and the shipment of a hazardous chemical. Distributors that have shipped hazardous chemicals to downstream employers, therefore, are required to have provided the employer a MSDS. Failure of a distributor to send MSDS for hazardous chemicals previously shipped to downstream employers would result in a citation for non-compliance and abatement would require the distributor to provide the MSDS to the customers at no cost. As a result, it is the Agency's interpretation that distributors cannot charge their customers for MSDS for hazardous chemicals previously shipped. If a hazardous chemical has not yet been shipped the standard does not prohibit a distributor from charging a customer for the MSDS.

If we can be of further assistance, please feel free to contact us again.


Thomas J. Shepich, Director
Directorate of Compliance Programs