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.

August 21, 1989

Mr. Morrill Ross, Jr.
Vice President
Ross Excavating & Hauling, Inc.
17585 Blanco Road, #7
San Antonio, Texas 78232-1036

Dear Mr. Ross:

This is in response to your letter of August 1, to Secretary of Labor Elizabeth Dole, regarding enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) in the construction industry.

OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1200, was first promulgated by the Agency in 1983. The scope of the standard was expanded on August 24, 1987 to include all employers with employees exposed to hazardous chemicals, including employers in the construction industry. Chemical manufacturers and importers have the responsibility to review scientific evidence concerning the health and physical hazards of the chemicals they produce or import. Under the expanded hazard communication rule, construction employers are now the recipients of this downstream flow of information. The identified hazards are required to be transmitted to downstream employers and distributors on a material safety data sheet (MSDS), and these MSDS must then be made readily available to employees in order for them to have access to information on the potential hazards of the substances they work with. Labels must be placed on containers of hazardous chemicals in the workplace, and employers must establish a training and information program for employees exposed to hazardous chemicals in their work areas.

The intent of the HCS is to ensure that information on the potential hazards from occupational exposure to hazardous substances is transmitted to employers and employees. You stated in your letter that "literally everything is hazardous," and you included a MSDS for silica sand, questioning why exposure to such an "everyday" item is considered to be hazardous under OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard.

The fact that a chemical substance does not appear to pose a health threat in "everyday" lives does not exclude the possibility of potential exposure to hazardous concentrations of the substance during conditions of use found at the workplace. Any substance that presents a potential health or physical hazard to which an employee may be exposed must be included in an employer's hazard communication program. During normal conditions of use at the worksite, occupational exposure to silica sand may result in the possibility for inhalation exposure. As you can see from the "Toxicity Information" of the MSDS for silica sand, inhalation of this substance has been found to cause silicosis, a form of disabling, progressive, pulmonary fibrosis. "Everyday" exposure to silica sand does not present the same exposure potential that repeated, 8-hour a day, workplace exposure can and, under the HCS, employees have the right to know the hazard information associated with exposure to a substance that they are required to work with.

OSHA has defined the term "hazardous substance" as any chemical which poses a physical or a health hazard. "Health hazard," as defined in the HCS means a chemical for which there is statistically significant evidence based on at least one study conducted in accordance with scientific principles, that acute or chronic health effects may occur in exposed employees. The term "health hazard" includes chemicals which are carcinogens, toxic or highly toxic agents, reproductive toxins, irritants, corrosives, sensitizers, hepatotoxins, nephrotoxins, neurotoxins, agents which act on the hematopoietic system, and agents which damage the lungs, skin, eyes or mucous membranes. The reported health effects of silica sand clearly fall within this definition, as would the hazard from exposure to silica sand from sand paper. MSDS for "grease" would likewise contain health hazard information on the reported toxic effects from exposure to those types of compounds. Again, under the HCS, the employee has the right to have this information available to him at his worksite.

With regard to such consumer products as "white out" and "WD-40" that you refer to in your letter, the HCS rule, at paragraph (b)(6)(vi) states that where such consumer products are used in the workplace in a manner comparable to normal conditions of consumer use, resulting in a duration and frequency of exposure to employees which is no greater than exposures experienced by ordinary customers, the chemical would not, under these conditions, have to be included in the employer's hazard communication program. However, if a worker is using a consumer product in a manner that results in a duration and frequency of exposure greater than that of normal consumer use, the product would have to covered in the employer's hazard communication program.

I hope this discussion has been helpful to you in understanding the Department's intent behind the promulgation of the Hazard Communication Standard. For your further information, I am enclosing a copy of the Federal Register notice of August 24, 1987, OSHA's Final Rule expanding the scope of the HCS to the non-manufacturing sector.

Please feel free to contact us again if we can be of further assistance.


Thomas J. Shepich, Director
Directorate of Compliance Programs