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.

October 13, 1998

Mr. Mark Hoffman
Rudolph/Libbe, Inc.
6494 Latcha Road
Walbridge, Ohio 43465

Dear Mr. Hoffman:

Thank you for your letter of July 10, to Ms. Jule Jones, Office of Construction Standards, Directorate of Construction. Your letter has been referred to the Office of Health Compliance Assistance, Directorate of Compliance. Please excuse our delay in responding. Your letter asked the following question:

Is it acceptable, as a back-up system for electronic access, for employees to request a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) over the telephone? The MSDS would be delivered to the employee as soon as possible, but no longer than two hours later.

MSDSs are an important part of the safety and health information in the workplace. The Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200) requires that MSDSs "are readily accessible during each work shift to employees when they are in their work area(s)." In this regard, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has interpretted the term "readily accessible" to mean "immediate" and would consider a two hour interval between an employee's request for an MSDS and receipt of the information to fall short of this criterion.

In a telephone convervation with a member of my staff, you further asked whether hazard information transmitted orally over the telephone would be considered adequate as a back-up system in the event of failure of the primary electronic system.

In general, we have not allowed transmittal of hazard information over the telephone. However, if the employer is relying on telephone transmittal of hazard information only for the purposes of backing up the primary electronic system, and if the MSDS will be provided as soon as possible after the request was made, we would consider this system an adequate back-up to the primary system.

We trust this answers your questions. If further information is needed, please feel free to call our Office of Health Compliance Assistance on 202-219-8036.


Richard E. Fairfax
Acting Director,
Directorate of Compliance Programs