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.

June 16, 1997

The Honorable Jay W. Johnson
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515-4908

Dear Congressman Johnson:

This is in response to your letter of March 19, concerning your constituent, Mr. Mark Vandenbusch of Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, regarding the use of the Internet for posting Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs). We appreciate Mr. Vandenbusch's suggestion to save money and time by having manufacturers post their MSDSs on the Internet and also print their Internet address on their products' labels.

OSHA has recently refined policy regarding electronic transmittal of the access to MSDSs. We cannot, however, mandate the use of the Internet for distribution of MSDSs, as the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) is a performance-oriented standard. As such, OSHA tries to maintain flexibility for the regulated community in meeting the requirements of the standard. A mandate requiring the use of the Internet could place a burden on manufacturers and downstream users who do not have access to this technology. However, significant strides have been made in the electronic dissemination of MSDSs. For example, the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA) is collecting this information electronically from some of its members for its CHEMTREC System. Mr. Vandenbusch may want to contact Mr. Gordon Strictland from the CMA at (703) 741-5500. Another person to contact is Mr. Kirby with AXXIS Business Solutions. AXXIS is working to develop a very large centralized MSDS repository by the year 2000. His telephone number is (612) 641-0341.

I would like to clarify that, OSHA does not require downstream users to maintain MSDSs for products they no longer use in their workplace. We do, however, require that employers maintain employee exposure records for a period of 30 years. Under the "Access to employee exposure and medical records" regulation (29 CFR 1910.1020), OSHA requires that the records identifying the substance or agent be retained. Product inventories can serve this purpose, provided they supply sufficient information, such as the locations and dates of use of the hazardous chemical.


Greg Watchman
Acting Assistant Secretary

March 19, 1997

Mr. Greg Watchman
Acting Assistant Secretary
Occupational Safety And
Health Administration
Francis Perkins Building, Room S-2315
Third Street And Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20210,

Dear Mr. Watchman:

I have attached a proposal from a constituent, Mr. Mark Vandenbusch of Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, a large electric utility, regarding use of the Internet for posting Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).

This idea appears to have merit and could be a great money and time saver for businesses and government. Further, such a system could provide immediate life saving information to emergency first responders and health care professionals.

I trust you will give serious consideration to Mr. Vandenbusch's proposal. Feel free to contact me and/or Mr. Vandenbusch for more information.


Jay W. Johnson
Member of Congress


OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard is based on a simple concept - that employees have both a need and a right to know the hazards and identities of the chemicals they are exposed to when working. This information comes in the form of their employer's Product Inventory and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS's) prepared by the manufacturer of the products.


Maintaining a complete and current library of MSDS's for all chemical products is both difficult and expensive. Typical companies must maintain thousands of MSDS's for things such as paint, cleaning fluids, lubricants, etc. Simply changing brands places a company in a temporary state of non-compliance until an MSDS is received from the manufacturer. In addition, all updates of MSDSs are required to be kept by the employer for 30 years.


Currently, manufacturers must provide an MSDS upon request. This proposal would require that manufacturers post their MSDS's on the INTERNET and also place the INTERNET address on the product label. Any MSDS would be accessible via the INTERNET simply by typing the address from the label. The postings could be at any address such as the manufacturer's home page or the site of someone providing this service. Manufacturers should also be required to maintain old MSDS's, thus saving every company the effort of maintaining obsolete and/or revised MSDS's. This would address any record-retention issues which may arise.


The proposed method would be a perfect match for the companies that already maintain MSDS's/Inventories on networked PC's and have INTERNET access. It is estimated that this proposal would save millions of dollars for companies throughout the United States. Although companies still need to maintain Product Inventories, the majority of the paperwork would no longer be necessary. This proposal would also save money for manufacturers because they would spend less time answering requests from companies for MSDS's. Emergency responders and safety professionals would also have immediate access to MSDS's for every product manufactured.