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.

September 12, 1990

Mr. Hal Marsolais
Managing Director
National Retail Hardware Association
5822 West 7th Street
Indianapolis, Indiana 46278

Dear Mr. Marsolais:

This is in response to your letter of May 23, addressed to Mr. William C. Lesser of the Department of Labor's Office of the Solicitor. As you were informed by Mr. Lesser, your letter was transferred to us for response; I apologize for the delay of this reply.

You requested an interpretation of requirements of the Occupational and Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), 29 CFR 1910.1200, pertinent to distributors of hazardous chemicals. In your letter, you state:


"Specifically what we would propose to do is provide a central inventory of MSDS for our industry. Each retailer would have 24-hour access to a toll-free hotline to request specific MSDS sheets for customers or employees. We propose to make this sheet available by direct computer link, fax, priority mail or regular mail. Emergency information would also be transmitted verbally in the event of a spill or breakage (this would provide information even faster than trying to look up a file copy from among 3,000-5,000 MSDS sheets). Our proposal would require vendors to transmit all MSDS to a central facility. This would help insure an accurate and current file and our 24-hour availability would greatly improve current industry accessibility to the information."

The Agency has interpreted the MSDS availability requirement to allow the use of computer or telefax or any other means, as long as a readable copy of the MSDS is available to the workers while they are in their work areas, during each workshift. The key to compliance with this provision is assuring no impediments to employee access to the information. MSDSs made available by "priority mail or regular mail" as you proposed would not meet the requirement that MSDSs be readily accessible to workers "while they are in their work areas, during each workshift."

It is important to note that the specific chemical's MSDS itself, not just "MSDS information" must be available to workers. If, as outlined in your proposal, the MSDS utilized in your electronic system is specific to each product and contains the same chemical identity as used on the required label of the chemical, so as to allow cross-referencing between the two, then this aspect of your system would meet the intent of the standard. If the MSDS provided is not product specific, the intent of the standard would not be met.

OSHA realizes that the requirement of the HCS to supply MSDSs and labels for hazardous chemicals may have imposed additional paperwork burdens on retail hardware distributors, and as you point out in your letter, OSHA has proposed a change in these requirements in the 1988 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on certain provisions of the HCS. The unimpeded downstream flow of hazard information is key to achieving the goals of the HCS. Distributors' transmittal of the MSDS and appropriate labels provide downstream employers with the information they need to implement employee protection programs. It also provides necessary hazard information to employees so they can participate in and support the protective measures in place at their workplaces.

If the on-line MSDS inventory system you propose accomplishes the intent of the standard to provide MSDSs to affected employers and employees with no barriers to their access, then this undertaking on behalf of your association may be of assistance to your members in meeting the requirements of the HCS. However, each individual employer is still responsible for meeting the other applicable requirements of the standard, including those of section (b)(4)(iii) of the HCS which requires employers who only have employees handling chemicals in sealed containers to provide them with information and training in accordance with paragraph (h) of the standard.

We hope this discussion has been helpful to you. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us again.


Patricia K. Clark
Director Designate
Directorate of Compliance Programs