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 http://www.osha.gov.

July 20, 1989

Mr. Louis R. Marchese
Halfpenny, Hahn, Roche and Marchese
20 North Wacker Drive
Chicago, Illinois 60606

Dear Mr. Marchese:

This is in response to your letters of March 27, February 8 and January 17 to Mr. Steve Simon in the Office of Health Compliance Assistance of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), regarding requirements of the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), 29 CFR 1910.1200, and downstream transmission of material safety data sheets (MSDSs) I apologize for the long delay in this response to you and hope that the following information will adequately address the concerns you raised.

You questioned whether the OSHA HCS requires the furnishing of hard-copy MSDSs to the downstream employer who receives hazardous workplace chemicals, "or if another means of furnishing MSDS information to that downstream employer is considered to be in compliance with the MSDS transmission requirements of the OSHA HCS." Attached to your most recent correspondence is a copy of a letter from our San Francisco Regional Office to Mr. Gary C. Stephen of Autobody Products Register in Pasadena, California. This letter stated that it was acceptable to utilize a microfiche program described in earlier correspondence from Mr. Stephen to meet the intent of the MSDS transmission requirement of the HCS. The HCS states that MSDSs "may be kept in any form" (see 29 CFR 1910.1200(g)(10)), so long as the required information is provided for each hazardous chemical and is "readily accessible during each work shift to employees when they are in their work area(s)." Ready accessibility means that the employee may easily read and refer to the information. This may be accomplished through actual paper copies of the data sheets, or alternatively through computer terminal access or other means of providing readable copy on-site.

In your January 17 letter, you requested clarification on the application of the HCS requirement at 1910.1200(g)(6) that "distributors and employers are provided an appropriate material safety data sheet with their initial shipment, and with the first shipment after a material safety data sheet is updated." You asked specifically if the MSDS transmission requirement would be met in the following situations:

(1) The distributor provides MSDSs via microfiche which can be read by the receiver of that microfiche using available microfiche readers.

(2) The distributor provides MSDSs via microfiche which can be read by the receiver of that microfiche and printed on hard copy by that receiver using a microfiche printer.

(3) The distributor notifies the receiver of the product that the MSDS is in its computer network and the receiver may utilize its existing computer equipment to obtain a readout or a printout of the MSDS.

(4) The distributor notifies the receiver of the product that the MSDS is available via utilization of FAX equipment which the receiver has currently in operation.

If the distributor and the receiver have mutually agreed that microfiche, computer or FAX will be used for MSDS transmission and both the distributor and the receiver already have the equipment at their worksites, these methods may be used. The distributor cannot require downstream receipients of his MSDS to purchase or acquire machinery (computer, microfiche reader/printer, FAX or any other types of equipment) in order to be able to receive MSDS information, since it is the responsibility of the distributor to supply a MSDS with the initial shipment. However, if the two parties agree that such automated MSDS transmission will occur, both parties have the necessary equipment and the information on the MSDS will be readily available to the employees, then the use of this type of transmission would meet the requirement of the standard.

Since transmission of the MSDS must occur with the initial shipment and upon MSDS update, the distributor may not just inform the receiver that "an MSDS is available", he must actually send or transmit the MSDS to the receiver either with the shipment or prior to the shipment of the hazardous material(s), so that the information is readily available to employees at the receiver's work areas. As discussed above, this may occur electronically. Many larger plants have met the requirements of MSDS information transmission under the HCS by installing inplant terminals and ensuring the training of employees to be able to easily access the information. The requirement for adequate employee training to access the electronically available information is key to compliance with this provision as you propose it, and must be met in order to ensure ready access to the hazard information contained on the MSDS.

We hope that this discussion helps clarify the concerns you raised. Please feel free to contact us again if we can be of further assistance.


Patricia K. Clark, Acting Director
Directorate of Compliance Programs