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.

July 10, 1992

Thomas A. Dawson, D.D.S., P.C.
508 M-55
Tawas City, Michigan 48763

Dear Dr. Dawson:

This is in response to your letter dated February 10, to the Michigan Department of Public Health concerning requirements for rating of hazards on Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). Your letter was referred to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for a response since you recommended that these hazard ratings be included as part of the MSDS requirements of the Federal Hazard Communication standard.

The Hazard Communication standard allows any labeling format to be used, as long as the labels include the basic required information regarding the chemical, i.e., the identity, the appropriate hazard warning(s), and the name and address of the chemical manufacturer. As indicated by the Michigan Department of Public Health, numerical rating or color-coded labels are strictly a voluntary, optional means of identifying hazards of materials. We are aware that a number of dentists have purchased compliance packages that include such labels, but it is not necessary to re-label containers received from manufacturers to indicate numerical ratings or color codes. Furthermore, you may use information from the manufacturer's label to label other containers in the workplace into which you transfer chemicals. As numerical ratings or color codes are not required under OSHA's labeling provisions, the Agency has no plans to consider modifying the MSDS provisions to add this information.

As you know, the State of Michigan is administering its own occupational safety and health program under a plan approved and monitored by Federal OSHA. States are required to adopt occupational safety and health standards at least as effective as those promulgated by Federal OSHA. Michigan has adopted a rule identical to the Federal which applies to all employers with employees exposed to hazardous chemicals in the workplaces. Thus, the Michigan Hazard Communication standard is currently in effect in your state.

In addition, Michigan offers free on-site consultation services to those employers who request guidance on compliance with occupational safety and health standards. For information regarding either the consultation services or the requirements of the Michigan Hazard Communication Standard, you should contact:

       Vernice Davis Anthony Director
       Michigan Department of Public Health
       3423 North Logan Street
       Box 30195 
       Lansing, Michigan 48909
       Telephone:  (517) 335-8022

We hope that this information is helpful to you. If we may be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.


Bruce Hillenbrand, Director
Federal-State Operations

May 19, 1992

Thomas A. Dawson, D.D.S., P.C.
508 M-55
Tawas City, Michigan 48763

Dear Dr. Dawson:

I sincerely apologize that your original letter of February 10 did not receive a response. It appears that someone here did not believe a reply was necessary or expected.

As both of your letters indicate, you have properly directed your recommendations regarding Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). They were the authors of the hazard communication regulations which were adopted by reference in Michigan by an act of the state legislature. While Michigan may specify requirements different than OSHA's, such requirements would need to be established by the legislature, not MIOSHA administrators.

In order for your recommendations to be effective, it would require all writers of MSDSs to comply, not just the small percentage subject to MIOSHA regulations. Further, as I am sure OSHA will agree, the number/color-coded labels are strictly a voluntary, optional means of identifying hazards of materials.

In writing the Hazard Communication Standard, OSHA sought to require a simple yet effective means of labeling hazardous materials. While the codes are simple, there are several arguments that they are not effective. Therefore, OSHA requires the label to identify the material (give it a name which will match the name on its MSDS) and relate through short, simple and direct written statements what is the nature of the hazard. Particularly in the area of health hazards or toxicity, number/color codes do not adequately inform workers of the true nature of the hazard. Also, Federal OSHA is currently reviewing their Hazard Communication Standard. They are considering a standardized format for all MSDSs.

We believe the present labeling requirements, if conscientiously followed by manufactures of hazardous materials, will do the intended job of communicating hazards to employees much better than any of the number-code systems in use. The failure in the prescribed labeling is our inability to effectively enforce proper labeling on all manufacturers.

Thank you for your letter and interest in this matter; and again, please accept our apology for the delayed response.


John R. Peck,
Acting Chief
Office of Special Programs
Division of Occupational Health


February 10, 1992

U.S. Department of Labor
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
801 South Waverly Road,
Suite 306
Lansing, Michigan 48917-4200

Division of Occupational Health Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Health 3423 North Logan Post Office Box 30195 Lansing, Michigan 48909



We are constantly striving in our office to ensure that we are in compliance with the regulations and requirements of OSHA/MIOSHA, not only because it is the law, but also because we want our office to be the safest work environment that it can possibly be.

I am writing today to bring to your attention an area of concern that has arisen in reference to the requirement for Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) for all chemicals used in our office. We have found that in the vast majority of cases, the manufacturers do not "rate" the hazards on their MSDS sheets (insofar as the color coded labels require--fire hazard, health hazard, reactivity, etc.) We are left to try to understand these sheets and rate the products as best we can (and this sometimes seems to require an advanced chemistry degree).

It is our suggestion that you consider a requirement that the rating be shown on the MSDS sheets, on the boxes that the products are shipped in, individual boxes the products are packaged in, and also the individual containers of each product, so that ACCURATE labeling can take place within the office setting, and that the warning labels we attach to the products will truly assist us in knowing the true dangers, or lack thereof, of the products concerned.

I thank you for your consideration and attention to this request.


Thomas A. Dawson, D.D.S., F.A.G.D.


PC: Michigan Dental Association