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.

June 14, 1990

The Honorable Lamar Smith
House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Congressman Smith:

Thank you for your letter of April 18, addressed to Mr. Mike Turner, Chief, Office of Legislative Affairs, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), on behalf of your constituent, Dr. Guy A. Sheppard, of the West Veterinary Clinic in San Angelo, Texas. Dr. Sheppard wrote to you concerning OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), 29 CFR 1910.1200.

In the letter you enclosed from Dr. Sheppard, he states "This code calls for the maintenance of a 'library' of Material Safety Data Sheets for all hazardous substances used in our hospitals. On the surface, these requirements sound reasonable. They lose reason when one sees a copy of the form that is required. The requirements become even more ridiculous when the list of substances which require an MSDS is examined. Common products found in most households are included such as acetic acid (vinegar), aspirin, gasoline, iodine, kaolin (found in Kaopectate), saccharin, silica (sand), starch, sucrose (table sugar) and turpentine."

The HCS establishes uniform requirements to ensure that the hazards of all chemicals imported into, produced or used in U.S. workplaces are evaluated and that this hazard information is transmitted to all affected employers and exposed employees via labels and material safety data sheets (MSDSs) for those products. All employers are required to provide information to their employees about the hazardous chemicals to which they are exposed at their workplaces. The HCS, however, does not include a list of chemicals nor does it apply to "food, drugs or cosmetics intended for personal consumption by employees while in the workplace" (Section (b)(6)(vi) of the HCS). Further, any consumer product (such as the turpentine or gasoline mentioned in Dr. Sheppard's letter) that is used in a workplace in such a way that the duration and frequency of use are the same as that of a consumer is not required to be included in an employer's hazard communication program and is, in fact, not subject to the requirements of the standard at all. It is, however, Dr. Sheppard's responsibility to make this determination for his workplace by assessing the exposure potential of the consumer products he may utilize and ensuring that the frequency and duration of use of these products by his employees are not greater than that of normal consumer use.

Dr. Sheppard also states that it is his responsibility "to know which products require an MSDS...." Under the HCS, chemical manufacturers and importers are responsible for performing a hazard determination on the chemicals they produce to determine if, under normal conditions of use, their product could result in a hazardous exposure situation for downstream employees who will be working with or otherwise handling that product. "Chemical" is broadly defined in the HCS as "any element, chemical compound, or mixture of elements and/or compounds," and therefore includes food and food additives. Food products (such as vinegar and starch mentioned in Dr. Sheppard's letter), like any other chemical product, must be evaluated for their downstream hazardous exposure potential. If there is no potential for worker exposure to any health or physical hazard (as defined in Appendix A of the standard), then the product is not subject to the provisions of the HCS and no material safety data sheet need be prepared for it or kept by the receiving employer.

In addition, all shipments must be labeled with the chemical identity, the name and address of the chemical manufacturer and an appropriate hazard warning. Therefore, if Dr. Sheppard receives a product labeled with hazard warnings in accordance with the HCS and his employees are or could potentially be exposed to the chemical beyond that of a consumer, then he would need to maintain the MSDS for that chemical on site and ensure that it is readily available to his employees.

Dr. Sheppard also expresses concern about being responsible for knowing when a new MSDS is required. When any new or significant information becomes available to the chemical manufacturer or importer, that party is responsible (not the downstream user or employer) for updating the MSDS and/or the label within three months. The new MSDS/label must be transmitted with the next shipment of the product to the downstream user. Dr. Sheppard will know that the information on the MSDS has changed whenever he receives a new MSDS from the chemical manufacturer, and he will then be required to incorporate this new information into his hazard communication program.

We hope this discussion adequately addresses your constituent's concerns; we will now address the issues raised in your cover letter. In your letter you state that while you agree that regulations for worker safety are reasonable, you specifically questioned whether there was "any evidence that such items such as starch or sucrose (table sugar) are dangerous to employees."

As discussed above, it is the employer is responsibility to assess the exposure potential of all hazardous chemicals utilized at his workplace and the duty of the importer, chemical manufacturer or distributor to conduct a hazard assessment of all the chemicals they produce or import. While in most circumstances neither will be a hazard, in some work environments starch and sucrose may represent a significant explosion hazard when suspended in air. This information is required to be transmitted via the MSDS to employers who then must assess the hazard potential created by usage of these materials in their workplace.

You further inquired as to whether "the benefits of imposing such regulations outweigh the costs?" OSHA conducted an economic and technological feasibility evaluation as well as a cost effectiveness study for this standard as it does for all standards. After careful analysis, the benefit of reduction of chemically related occupational injuries and illnesses was found to outweigh the cost of compliance. The results of this analysis are detailed in pages 31867-31876 of the August 24, 1987, Federal Register which contained the final rule for Hazard Communication. A copy of this section of the Federal Register is included for your information.

With regard to your question concerning the number of violations for failure to place warning labels on regular household goods, section (b) of the HCS specifically exempts food, food additives, and color additives from the labeling requirements of the HCS when they are subject to the labeling requirements of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act which are enforced by the Food and Drug Administration. Foods, drugs, cosmetics, or alcoholic beverages in a retail establishment, which are packaged for sale to consumers, are also excluded from the labeling requirements of the HCS.

You also asked, "Has any action been taken to reevaluate the list of hazardous substances?" As previously stated, the HCS does not contain or reference a specific list of chemicals. Chemicals must be evaluated for both potential physical and health hazards by the chemical importer, manufacturer or distributor to ascertain whether an MSDS must be prepared.

The intent of the HCS can only be met when employers obtain and transmit hazard information on the chemical products in their workplaces to their employees who are or may be exposed to them during the course of their employment. We hope this discussion adequately addresses your concerns. We are enclosing a copy of two booklets on OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard that may be useful as a further reference source on the requirements of the HCS. Please feel free to contact us again if we can be of further assistance.


Gerard F. Scannell
Assistant Secretary