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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.
January 12, 2017
Mr. Bradley P. Miller
Director of Advocacy & Sustainability
Business + Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association
678 Front Ave. NW, Ste. 150
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49504-5368
Dear Mr. Miller:
Thank you for your letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Directorate of Enforcement Programs, regarding the applicability of OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), 29 CFR 1910.1200, to textiles and fabrics utilized in the manufacturing of office furniture. This letter constitutes OSHA’s interpretation only of the requirements herein, and may not be applicable to any situation not delineated within your original correspondence. Your question has been summarized below, followed by our reply.
Background: The Business + Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA), represents manufacturers of business and institutional furniture. Member companies use a variety of bulk textiles and fabrics to manufacture furniture. These bulk textiles and fabrics may be treated with stain repellants, antimicrobials, and other chemical treatments. During the manufacturing process, these bulk fabrics and textiles are cut to size by various methods, including mechanical shearing, hot wire, and laser before being incorporated into furniture. This manufacturing process may result in chemical exposures to manufacturing workers.
Some suppliers of bulk textiles and fabrics may consider their products to be “articles,” which, if true, exempts them from the requirements of the HCS, including the requirement to provide labels and safety data sheets (SDS) to downstream users.
Question: Are the suppliers of bulk textiles and fabrics required to label their products and provide SDSs to downstream users?
Reply: OSHA’s HCS definition of “Article” means “a manufactured item other than a fluid or particle: (i) which is formed to a specific shape or design during manufacture; (ii) which has end use function(s) dependent in whole or in part upon its shape or design during end use; and (iii) which under normal conditions of use does not release more than very small quantities, e.g., minute or trace amounts of a hazardous chemical (as determined under paragraph (d) of this section), and does not pose a physical hazard or health risk to employees.” 29 CFR 1910.1200(c).
If, under normal conditions of use, a product can release more than minute or trace amounts of a hazardous chemical or pose a physical hazard or health risk to employees, the product is not an article. Many items appear to meet the definition of “article” in their manufactured form, but the manufacturer must consider the product’s end use as well as whether employees and downstream users will be exposed to any physical hazard or health risk from exposures to the hazardous chemical(s) before the "article" exemption may apply.
BIFMA members are processing large quantities of textile and fabrics, including physically cutting and/or heating materials. OSHA presumes the textiles and fabrics are treated with (i.e., hazardous) chemicals. A manufacturer or importer is most familiar with its product development and they would have the required information available to determine if more than very small quantities of hazardous chemicals would be released during downstream processes. See 29 CFR 1910.1200(b)(2) and 29 CFR 1910.1200(c). If workers and downstream users are exposed to hazardous chemicals during laser, hot wire cutting and mechanical shearing, which are part of the normal manufacturing process, the treated fabric and textile would not be considered an article under the HCS. Therefore, the manufacturers or importers of the treated fabric and textile are required to properly label materials and provide and maintain SDSs, presuming that they will emit more than very small (trace) amounts of hazardous chemicals or pose a physical hazard or health risk to employees.
The SDS must include information such as the chemical properties for each chemical, the physical and health hazards, and the protective measures and safety precautions for handling, storing, and transporting. This information will provide BIFMA members a basis for their specific process evaluations and potential workplace exposures. See 29 CFR1910.1200(g).
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 ensure 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