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.


December 7, 1999

Mr. Bruce Mahan, Education Director
ICWUC Center for Worker Health and Safety Education
329 Race Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202-3584

Dear Mr. Mahan:

Thank you for your letter of May 18, 1999 concerning employee access to material safety data sheets (MSDSs). You ask for clarification on which standard employees should use when requesting MSDS copies: 29 CFR 1910.1200 or 29 CFR 1910.1020. The following information briefly summarizes the purpose and scope of each standard.

The purpose of the Hazard Communication standard (HCS), 29 CFR 1910.1200, is "to ensure that the hazards of all chemicals produced or used in the workplace are evaluated and that the information is transmitted to employers and employees." With respect to your question regarding the accessibility of MSDSs, the standard states in paragraph 1910.1200(g)(8) that the employer must "ensure that they are readily accessible during each work shift to employees when they are in their work area(s)."

29 CFR 1910.1020, Access to Employee Exposure and Medical Records, states that its purpose is to, "provide employees and their designated representatives a right of access to relevant exposure and medical records." "Employee exposure record" is defined, among other records, as "a record containing any of the following kinds of information: ...material safety data sheets." In the absence of an MSDS or other exposure record specified under the standard, the employer may maintain a chemical inventory (or other type of record) which reveals the identity of the toxic chemical and where and when it was used. Paragraphs 1910.1020(e)(1)(i), 1910.1020(e)(1)(iii)(A), and 1910.1020(e)(1)(iii)(B) require that when an employee or employee representative requests access to records, the employer must ensure that "access is provided in a reasonable time, place, and manner" and that requested copies or copying facilities be "provided without cost."

Both standards cited above refer to the employee's right to access information and both make specific reference to material safety data sheets. Under 1910.1020, the employee must request the record of exposure, while under 1910.1200, the MSDSs must be available to employees without having to ask. Other differences are: 1) the language used in §1910.1020 is specifically directed towards employee access to exposure and medical records, whereas §1910.1200 encompasses all elements of the employer's hazard communication program; 2) §1910.1020 does not require the employer to maintain the MSDS after the chemical is no longer used in the workplace as long as some record of exposure exists, while the HCS requires that the MSDSs for chemicals in current use be immediately available. Therefore, the HCS is more applicable for obtaining information on chemicals in current use, while the Access to Employee Exposure and Medical Records standard is meant to allow employees to access exposure records.

You mention that you "have had workers report back to us that they have been denied copies and been given only access to MSDSs based on having requested the copy under 1910.1200 instead of 1910.1020." As we stated previously, and, as required under 1910.1200, MSDSs must be readily accessible to the employees during each work shift and in their work area(s). Employees should not have to ask for an MSDS, as this could be perceived by employees as a barrier to access. For instance, if an employee must go through a supervisor to receive an MSDS, the employee may feel that this singles him or her out. This could very well dampen the employee's resolve to seek out necessary hazard information.

Thank you for your interest in this matter. I hope that you find this information helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the [Office of Health Enforcement] at (202) 693-2190.


Richard E. Fairfax, Director
Directorate of Compliance Programs

[Corrected 8/9/2007]