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 28, 1994

The Honorable John J. Duncan, Jr. U.S. House of Representatives Washington, D.C. 20515-4202

Dear Congressman Duncan:

Thank you for your letter of August 1, requesting information regarding the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), 29 CFR 1910.1200. You also enclosed a letter from your constituent, Steve Burgess, dated June 19, requesting a description of a retailer's responsibilities regarding material safety data sheets (MSDSs) and training under the HCS. Your constituent's comments/questions will be answered in their respective order.

1. "What are the requirements of a retailer in maintenance and employee training of these sheets?"

In the February 9, 1994, Hazard Communication Final Rule paragraph (g)(7), (enclosed) OSHA clarifies the different responsibilities of wholesale and retail distributors with respect to commercial customers and employers purchasing in retail quantities. According to paragraph (g)(7)(iii) of the HCS, retail distributors selling hazardous chemicals to employers having a commercial account shall provide a material safety data sheet to such employers upon request and shall post a sign or otherwise inform them that a material safety data sheet is available.

For employees who may be exposed to hazardous chemicals in the workplace, paragraph (h) specifies the information and training requirements. For example, employers are required to inform employees of the location and availability of MSDSs.

2. "Assuming these are to be used in helping the consumer in case of an emergency. What happens after the retailer's regular business hours or when the manufacturer's facility is closed on the weekend."

It is the manufacturer and not the retailer that is responsible for maintaining an emergency number. The emergency number is used when additional product information is required during a hazardous chemical emergency. Hours of emergency line operation must be decided individually by each chemical manufacturer.

3. "Seems to me that trying to utilize and maintain these sheets at the retail level is a futile waste of valuable time. This also seems to create a position for some bureaucrat."

The requirement to provide material safety data sheets (MSDSs) to employers who buy their hazardous chemicals from a retail outlet and who request an MSDS for the purchased chemical is a requirement of the standard for these types of distributors if they are transmitting hazardous chemicals to downstream employers. As mentioned in the preamble to the 1987 final rule on Hazard Communication (FR Vol. 52, No. 163, page 31866): "retail distributors will have to assess their product lines, and whether or not they have commercial accounts, to determine whether they must comply with this provision."

The preamble to the HCS quoted a comment obtained during the notice and comment period. This comment, reiterated below, states OSHA's position that this provision is not burdensome.

"If OSHA does require commercial customers to get information through a retail outlet, I do not foresee any problems with that arrangement. The manufacturers could supply us with the information, as they are required to now for shipments to manufacturing plants, and we could make it available to customers upon request. We would merely keep the sheets in a file drawer and post a sign informing customers of their availability. We have less than 100 chemicals that would probably be affected, and keeping information on those would require at most, one file drawer. It would not be burdensome."

4. "I believe a better approach would be to create a system similar to the poison control center where the consumer can call an 800 number for an immediate response. This would allow the consumer to receive accurate information 24 hours a day. (Employees have a difficult time understanding these sheets)."

The HCS does not apply to the general public. Normally, MSDS's are not required to be transmitted to retail consumers unless they request one. The purpose of OSHA's HCS is to reduce chemical source illnesses and injuries through acquisition of hazard information. This can only occur if employees receive the information on the hazardous substances they work with in usable form through appropriate training, which will enhance their ability to understand the sheets. In effect, employees at a worksite with hazardous chemicals must be trained on the hazardous materials they are exposed to, how to obtain and use information on labels and material safety data sheets (MSDSs), and how to follow appropriate work practices.

We hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions please contact the Office of Health Compliance Assistance at (202) 219-8036.


Joseph A. Dear Assistant Secretary

Enclosure: Copy of the February 9 Federal Register notice