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.



December 26, 1989



SUBJECT: Asbestos and the Hazard Communication Standard


This is in response to your memo of November 7 regarding the requirement of the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) under [1910.1200(e)] for employers involved in asbestos removal to develop and implement a written hazard communication program specific to the hazard of asbestos exposure.

The scope and application section (b) of the HCS requires "all employers to provide information to their employees about the hazardous chemicals to which they are exposed by means of a hazard communication program..." etc. Further, the HCS at section (e), requires employers to develop, implement and maintain a written hazard communication program which includes (among other things) a list of the hazardous chemicals known to be present and a description of how the company will comply with sections (f),(g) and (h) of the standard. Section (e)(2) additionally requires employers on a multi-employer worksite who "produce, use or store hazardous chemicals" to develop a written hazard communication program. The HCS defines "use" as packaging, handling, reacting or transferring. The employees at an asbestos removal operation certainly are "handling" the hazardous chemical asbestos. Employers of employees involved in asbestos removal would therefore be required to develop a written hazard communication program not only to protect their employees, but also for the employees of other employers who may be exposed to the hazard of asbestos that is being created by the removal operations. Again, we believe these requirements are triggered by the scope and application section (b), the written program requirements at section (e), and the definitions section (c) (see definitions for "employee", "employer", "exposure" and "use").

You mentioned that the construction asbestos standard, [1926.1101] does not require a MSDS for asbestos. We agree with the argument put forth in your memorandum that since [1926.1101] does not specifically require that a written hazard communication program be developed for the hazards of asbestos exposure during removal operations, the more general requirement of [29 CFR 1910.1200(e)] applies to the situation. While we believe that [1910.1200(e)] of the HCS applies as set forth above to the hazards of asbestos-exposed employees during asbestos removal, we also acknowledge that a MSDS for "asbestos" cannot be required under [1910.1200]. It is the responsibility of the chemical manufacturer to develop the MSDS and send it to the downstream employer(s) for their information and use in their hazard communication programs. Obviously, asbestos-removal contractors have no way of obtaining the MSDS for the specific asbestos-containing materials they are removing. Employers may be encouraged, however, to obtain or develop a "generic" MSDS for "asbestos" for use in their overall hazard communication program, but they cannot be required to do so.

As discussed with Mr. Jim Johnston of your staff, we question the validity of the employer's assertion that "no other chemicals" (besides asbestos itself) are "used" during asbestos removal operations. We understand that this is the employer's defense for not having a written hazard communication program. Usually these types of removal operations involve the use and application of certain surfactants and wetting agents which would themselves be subject to the provision of the HCS and for which a written hazard communication program would need to have been developed. In any event, the multi-employer requirements of section (e) of the HCS obligates the employer on a multi-employer work-site who may be exposing the employees of another employer to hazardous chemicals, (in this situation the asbestos he is causing exposure to through his removal operations), to develop a written hazard communication program which includes the methods that will be used to inform the other employers of the potential hazards.

I hope this will be of help to you in the litigation of this case. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact [the Office of Health Enforcement at (202) 693-2190].

[Correction 6/2/2005]