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 21, 1999

Mr. Sergio Tejeda
Regulatory Affairs
Henry Schein, Inc.
135 Duryea Road
Melville, New York 11747

Dear Mr. Tejeda:

This is in reply to your letter of November 9, 1998, in which you asked about the use of electronic systems for providing Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to downstream users of hazardous chemicals. The letter is being provided supplemental to the telephone conversation you had with a member of my staff on November 18, 1998. We apologize for the delay in getting this to you.

In your letter you asked if it is sufficient for a distributor to provide clients with MSDSs by advertising a toll-free number in catalogs and other mailings. Clients would then call to request MSDSs via facsimile transmission. However, this system requires the user to seek out the hazard information. In order to meet the requirements of the standard, this system will have to be modified.

The Hazard Communication Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1200, allows electronic access as a means of providing hazard information, however, the standard was written to require the "downstream flow" of hazard information. That is to say, hazard information must be supplied by the manufacturer, distributor, importer (hereinafter referred to as the "supplier") to the employer, and, subsequently, to the employee.

As the supplier of the hazardous chemical, your company must take some positive action to ensure that the downstream users are willing and able to receive the information electronically. This could consist of querying the customer and recording the response. If the customer does not wish to receive the information via a toll-free number, a hard copy of the MSDS would have to be provided.

Also, the supplier must take positive action to ensure that the customer knows how to obtain the hazard information. OSHA would not consider an advertisement in catalogs or other general mail communications adequate for this purpose. However, a specific letter to the customer with detailed information would suffice. Other criteria the supplier must fulfill are:







  1. In the event of a system failure, a back-up system must be available. For instance, if the power fails and the facsimile machine is inoperable, the downstream user must have another means of receiving the required information immediately. (In this case, telephone transmittal of hazard information would be allowed as long as the MSDS is delivered to the site as soon as possible.)
  2. In the event of a significant change to the health hazard information on the MSDS, the supplier is responsible for ensuring that the downstream users are aware that the updated MSDS is available. Some positive means of contact, such as a letter stating that the MSDS has been changed and the updated MSDS is available would be required.
  3. The employer must be made aware that the onus is upon them to ensure that their employees are adequately trained in the system of electronic access and know how to obtain the MSDSs.

Thank you for the opportunity to answer your questions regarding 29 CFR 1910.1200, OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact OSHA's Office of Health Compliance Assistance at 202-693-2190.


Richard E. Fairfax
Directorate of Compliance Programs