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.

April 19, 1991

The Honorable John T. Myers
House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Congressman Myers:

This is in further response to your letter of March 7, enclosing correspondence from your constituent, Mark Hermodson, regarding compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) "Occupational Exposures to Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories" standard, commonly known as the Laboratory Standard.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, OSHA's primary responsibility is to promulgate and enforce standards that ensure workers' safety and health. Each time a standard is to be promulgated, the public is invited to participate in the rulemaking process. Risk assessments as well as economic impacts of implementing the standards are considered by the Agency. Issues such as those raised by your constituent concerning the amount of time and resources needed for compliance with the standards are also addressed in the rulemaking process.

Specifically addressing your constituent's comments that "those rules are particularly obnoxious," we believe that potentially significant risks can exist in laboratories and the need for employee protection such as that afforded by the Laboratory Standard is clearly evident. Laboratories that do not implement work practices and procedures which are at least as effective as those prescribed by this standard may be risking employees' health and safety. After reviewing all relevant information and comments gathered during the rulemaking procedures, OSHA finds this standard necessary and feasible and not overly burdensome upon employers who have already implemented good work practices in their laboratories.

Mr. Hermodson's department has been fortunate in experiencing only three accidents in ten years. The low rate of injuries maybe due to good work practices already implemented in those laboratories. If that is the case, Mr. Hermodson should not have much difficulty in complying with the Laboratory Standard, which primarily focuses on safe work practices when using hazardous chemicals and allows a large measure of flexibility in compliance methods.

The Agency certainly does not intend to burden an employer with unnecessary paperwork or to cause a loss in productivity. There are benefits to be gained in complying with this standard. Given the flexibility to design and implement innovative measures to reduce employee exposure to hazardous substances, employers will reap rewards in terms of lower insurance premiums, lower property damage costs, lower turnover costs, less absenteeism, and in general increased productivity. Finally the potential decrease in acute and chronic health problems will result in overall benefits to society through the associated reduction in medical and productivity costs. The Agency believes knowledge of health and safety issues is essential and will enhance not impede the research and teaching of science.

In regard to the editorial you attached, federal agencies are required to operate their own safety and health programs for their employees. OSHA provides assistance upon request.

Please also note that the State of Indiana operates its own health and safety program and is not within Federal OSHA's jurisdiction. Its standards have to be at least as effective as the federal ones but may be stricter. We suggest that your constituent contact the State for further information. The address and phone number are as follows:

Indiana Department of Labor
1013 State Office Building
100 North Senate Avenue
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204-2287

We thank you for bringing to our attention your constituent's comments. If we can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us again.


Gerard F. Scannell
Assistant Secretary

The Honorable John Myers
House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Congressman Myers:

This is an interim response to your letter of March 7, enclosing correspondence from your constituent, Mark Hermodson, regarding compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) "Occupational Exposures to Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories" standards.

We are in the process of gathering information in order to address your concerns. We will provide you with a full response as soon as possible.


Gerard F. Scannell
Assistant Secretary

March 7, 1991

Gerard F. Schannell
Assistant Secretary
Occupational Safety and Health
Administration, Room S-2315
200 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20210

Dear Secretary Schannell:

One of my constituents, Purdue University Professor Mark Hermodson, of West Lafayette, Indiana recently contacted me regarding compliance with the OSHA's "Occupational Exposures to Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories" standards. A copy of his letter is attached for your information.

I would appreciate your reviewing his comments related to this standard and advise me of your findings. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you.


John Myers


February 13, 1991

The Honorable John Myers
2372 Rayburn Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Congressman:

The attached editorial from this week's Science addresses an issue which is reaching crisis proportions at this and other Universities. I am particularly sensitized to the issue at this time, since we are facing the process of bringing ourselves into compliance with OSHA's "Occupational Exposures to Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories" standards. Those rules are particularly obnoxious. If taken literally, we could easily tie up 10% or more of our faculty's time, plus significant proportions of the time of our student and lab staffs. In addition it will add many more paper-pushers to our already bloated bureaucracy devoted to monitoring and reporting Federal rules and requirements on a host of topics.

As Dr. Abelson points out in the editorial, the mandating of such expansion of administrative staff at Universities (the number of which now exceeds the number of faculty at Purdue and most other Universities of any size) adds to the pressure for continued raising of indirect cost rates, reducing the money available for scientific research. Worse, it diverts major portions of our scientists' time to tasks which have nothing to do with accomplishing their teaching and research missions.

I am in no way opposed to safe operation of laboratories. In the ten years I have been Head of this department I believe we have had only three accidents I considered serious, and the worst injury in those was some scratches. The OSHA paper-work is going to cost us a lot in lost productivity, and indirect costs. It will not significantly improve anything in terms of lab safety.

Please work to dismantle bureaucratic regulations and reporting requirements and let us do the science and teaching this country so desperately needs.

Sincerely yours,

Mark Hermodson
Professor/Head of Biochemistry