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.

August 3, 2016

Ms. Caroline Davidson-Hood
Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute 
2111 Wilson Blvd., Suite 500
Arlington, Virginia 22201

Dear Ms. Davidson-Hood:

Thank you for your letter and follow-up email to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Directorate of Enforcement Programs. Your questions concern labeling requirements for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)-39 non-refillable 30 pound or 50 pound cylinders under the Hazard Communication standard (HCS 2012), 29 CFR 1910.1200. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements herein, and may not be applicable to any questions not delineated within your original correspondence. Your paraphrased questions and our responses are below.

Background: The Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) represents manufacturers of heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, refrigeration, and water heating equipment. AHRI's representatives manufacture and distribute refrigerants enclosed within specially designed 30 pound or 50 pound cylinders, generally referred to as "DOT-39 Non-Refillable Cylinders." The DOT has specification requirements (49 CFR 178.65) for how the cylinders are manufactured and also requires that the cylinder be encased in a strong non-bulk outer package that is labeled, "INSIDE CONTAINERS COMPLY WITH PRESCRIBED SPECIFICATIONS." 49 CFR 173.301(a)(9). The outer packages are designed to remain in place from shipment to disposal, so it is possible and intended that the refrigerant supplied in DOT-39 cylinders spend the entire life-cycle inside the fiberboard outer packaging. It is also possible that an employer would dispose of the outer packaging.

The primary reason refrigerant container manufacturers do not place a label on both the outside packaging and the inner cylinder is because (according to surveyed members) with the change of the label from one color to two or three colors, the cost of printing the label on the cylinder will go up significantly.

Question 1: Is it permissible for DOT-39 non-refillable cylinders carrying refrigerant, which are packaged in DOT-required fiberboard outer packages, to be labeled with OSHA's HCS 2012-required labels on the outside packaging rather than the inner cylinder?

Response: The HCS 2012 requires the manufacturer or importer ensure that each container of hazardous chemicals leaving the workplace is labeled, tagged, or marked in accordance with 29 CFR 1910.1200(f). The HCS defines "container," in pertinent part, as "any bag, barrel, bottle, box, can, cylinder, drum, reaction vessel, storage tank, or the like that contains a hazardous chemical," and defines "label" as "an appropriate group of written, printed or graphic information elements concerning a hazardous chemical that is affixed to, printed on, or attached to the immediate container of a hazardous [chemical], or to the outside packaging."  29 CFR 1910.1200(c). As OSHA explained in the HCS 2012 compliance directive titled Inspection Procedures for the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS 2012), because paragraph (f)(1) requires the label on each container, labeling on the outside package only is not compliant. 1 This is consistent with OSHA's long-standing position that the immediate container must be labeled. See OSHA's 1990 letter to Mr. John W. Boyan, stating that HCS labels are not required for outside shipping containers (copy enclosed).

If the outer package is considered the container of use then it must be configured in such a way that it remains bound, as intended, to the cylinder. If the outer package cannot be configured by the manufacturer or importer so that it cannot be removed, the cylinder itself must be labeled in accordance with HCS 2012. The cylinders may be labeled through the use of stamped labels, stick-on labels, tags, or other methods. When tags are used, they must be affixed to the immediate container of the hazardous chemical in such a way that they do not become separated from the container.

Question 2:  Manufacturers must incur additional cost to print labels for cylinders in two or three colors. Would OSHA permit the printing of the (f)(1) label on the outer package and a single-color (f)(6) label on the cylinder itself?

Response 2: No. As explained above, the HCS 2012 label must be affixed to, printed on, or attached to the immediate container of a hazardous chemical, which, in the case you have described, is the cylinder itself. 29 CFR 1910.1200(f)(1). Manufacturers and importers are not permitted to label chemical containers with paragraph (f)(6) workplace labeling rather than (f)(1) labels. 

Question 3: Alternatively, would OSHA allow single-color HCS 2012 labels meeting all other (f)(1) requirements on the refrigerant cylinder?

Response 3: No. Single-color pictograms are not allowed on (f)(1) labels; they must have a red border. Appendix C.2.3.1 to 29 CFR 1910.1200, Allocation of Label Elements (Mandatory), specifically states that "pictograms shall be in the shape of a square set at a point and shall include a black hazard symbol on a white background with a red frame sufficiently wide to be clearly visible."

For additional information on the HCS 2012 and other label guidance, please refer to OSHA's Hazard Communication Safety and Health Topics page found at https://www.osha.gov/dsg/hazcom/index.html

Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. We hope you find this information helpful. OSHA's requirements are set by statute, standards, and regulations.  Our letters of interpretation do not create new or additional requirements but rather explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. From time to time, letters are affected when the Agency updates a standard, a legal decision impacts a standard, or changes in technology affect the interpretation. To assure that you are using the correct information and guidance, please consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov. If you have further questions, please feel free to contact the Office of Health Enforcement at (202) 693-2190.



Thomas Galassi, Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs

[Correction 9/22/2016]

1 https://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/Directive_pdf/CPL_02-02-079.pdf