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 4, 1997

The Honorable Tim Holden
U.S. House of Representatives
Berks County Services Center
633 Court Street
Reading, Pennsylvania 19601

Dear Congressman Holden:

This is in response to your letter of January 31, on behalf of your constitutent [Name Withheld], regarding the government's handling of workers' reports of exposure to hazardous chemicals in the workplace. Please accept my apology for the delay in this response.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is charged with promoting safety and health of workers in the workplace. OSHA safety and health standards are enforced by OSHA during workplace on-site inspections. These inspections are conducted based upon employee complaints regarding workplace safety and health exposures, referrals from safety inspectors, fatalities or catastrophies, or planned targeting lists.

One of these standards requires employers to provide safety and health information regarding all hazardous chemicals to which their employees may be exposed during the performance of their job duties. This Standard (Hazard Communication Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1200) requires employers to identify and inform employees about workplace exposure hazards. An employer may use product container labels, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs), and training programs to inform employees about the hazards presented by the chemicals to which they may be exposed. The standard requires employers to provide training and MSDSs to all employees that may be exposed to hazardous chemicals in the workplace. MSDSs provide written information on a hazardous chemical including its protential effects, its physical and chemical characteristics for appropriate protective measures.

Some states have elected to provide their own Occupational Safety and Health (OHS) requirements and enforcement under the umbrella of Federal OSHA. Federal OSHA jurisdiction applies only to private employers in states where there is no federally approved state OSHA plan. Usually educational institutions, such as state universities, are not covered by federal OSHA jurisdiction but may be covered by state OSHA plans which should have the same or similar provisions and requirements of federal OSHA.

Both state and federal OSHA have requirements for response to employee complaints regarding safety and health in the workplace. Employers are required to have a poster prominently displayed in the workplace outlining the rights of the employee, including who the employee should contact in regard to workplace safety and health problems. Enclosed is an information booklet regarding OSHA and its functions (All About OSHA - OSHA 2056) and a booklet regarding the hazard communication standard (Chemical Hazard Communication - OSHA 3084).

It is unfortunate [Name Withheld] illness may have resulted from his cooking job. OSHA has no data on the extent to which public educational institutions not covered by OSHA follow OSHA's regulations. I am sure it varies considerably. [Name Withheld] may want to take up this issue with his elected state representative.

If you should have any further concerns, please feel free to contact the Office of Health Compliance Assistance at (202) 219-8036.


Greg Watchman
Acting Assistant Secretary

January 31, 1997

Honorable Robert Reich
Department of Labor
Frances Perkins Building
Washington, D.C. 20210

RE: [Name Withheld]

Dear Secretary Reich:

I am contacting you on behalf of the above named constituent regarding his concerns in reference to workers becoming exposed to hazardous chemicals.

Enclosed please find a letter from [Name Withheld] explaining this matter in greater detail. Any assistance you can provide me in responding to my constituent's concerns would be greatly appreciated.

Please feel free to respond directly to my Reading district office at the address listed above.


Tim Holden
Member of Congress

January 24, 1997

Representative T. Timothy Holden
Berks County Services Center
633 Court St. 1st Floor
Reading, Pa. l9601


My reason for writing your office is to find out if anyone in our government is keeping track of reports from workers who have been exposed to hazardous chemicals in the work place and are these reports being taken seriously?

I am a forty year old father of ten children who by the grace of God was released from the terrible grip of drugs and alcohol over nine years ago. I immediately got a job cooking, something I love doing and I'm good at. I was diagnosed with asthma in my early childhood, but after I stopped the drug abuse, I had no serious problems. That is until I got a job cooking at one of the largest educational institutions in the state. Not long after I started there I began using my inhalers (2) a lot more. I really didn't pay much attention to this until I became sick enough to have to spend a week in the hospital. To make a long story short, I was out of work for four weeks and was decided to resign from this well known institution of higher learning for health reasons. But I was and still am using three different inhalers and I must see a respiratory therapist once a month.

I worked with cleaners that had very little warning information on the product and I had to make a deal to get the MSDA sheets that contained information that, had I known about earlier, I would have never put myself in the position I spent almost five years in.

Today I am in court fighting to get some type of compensation, but no amount of money is going to give me back the breathing capacity I once had. I'm not would appreciate a response even if you can't offer any help or advice. Thank-you for your time in reading this letter.


[Name Withheld]