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Emergency Management & Safety

Emergency Management & Safety
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Material Safety Data Sheet Resources

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS's) are mandated to be supplied by manufacturers and distributors for ALL hazardous chemical products.

Employers MUST make them available for employees who work with those chemicals.

Safety Data Sheets (SDS's) are a new standardized format of MSDS. Both are currently in use and valid in 2014, but by July 1st, 2015 ALL must be in the new SDS format.

The link below is where SIUE deposits electronic versions of their MSDS's/SDS's. Hard copies should still be available in relevant work areas.

SIUE MSDS database - available only on campus network, but NO login required!

Material Safety Data Sheet Availability Rules

Each work area needs to have easily accessible, readable MSDS's/SDS's available during all shifts, with no barriers to access  (i.e. power or network failures, locked rooms, or no PC access). Paper copies, or battery backed up locally saved electronic copies are the best.

OSHA positions on Electronic Storage and Access regarding Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS's) are outlined in the letters of Clarification below.

February 18, 1999

The Honorable Ron Wyden
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Wyden:

Thank you for your letter dated December 14, 1998, addressed to the Honorable Alexis Herman, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, in which you requested clarification regarding systems of electronic access to Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs). Your letter has been forwarded to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for a response. Below we have provided a brief history regarding the issue of electronic access. Following this, we have provided answers to your four questions.

OSHA has allowed electronic access to MSDSs since at least July, 1989. Our most recent interpretation (written on October 13, 1998, to Mr. Mark Hoffman, Rudolph/Libbe, Inc., Walbridge, Ohio) expanded the use of telephone transmittal of hazard information in "emergency" situations. The term "emergency," as it relates to back-up systems for electronic access is discussed in our compliance directive, CPL 2-2.38D (Inspection Procedures for the Hazard Communication Standard, dated March 20, 1998). In this context, "emergency" is defined as foreseeable failures in the electronic system such as power outages, equipment failures, on-line access delays, etc., and is not meant to encompass catastrophic events, medical emergencies, or other situations.

Previous to the October 13 letter to Mr. Hoffman, the only time telephone transmittal of hazard information was permitted was under the mobile worksite provision of the rule. The mobile worksite provision allows employees who travel between worksites during the work shift to phone-in for hazard information. In this situation, the employees have access to the MSDSs prior to leaving the worksite and upon returning. The telephone system, therefore, is seen as an emergency arrangement.

With that background, we have paraphrased your questions and provided answers below:

  1. If an employer maintains an electronic system as the primary means of providing MSDSs in the workplace, is it acceptable for employees to obtain hazard information verbally over the phone if the primary system is temporarily inoperable? Is it acceptable for employees to obtain hazard information over the phone in the case of other kinds of emergencies? In the event of a power outage, equipment failure, or other "emergency" involving a foreseeable failure of the primary electronic system, OSHA would consider telephone transmittal of hazard information to be an adequate back-up as long as the MSDS is delivered to the site as soon as possible. In emergencies other than failure of the primary electronic system, the MSDSs must be available and we would consider telephone transmittal of hazard information supplemental to the data sheets.

  1. Is it acceptable for an employer to rely on receiving verbal hazard information over the phone and then receive the actual MSDS as soon as possible, but no longer than two hours later? No. Ready accessibility to MSDSs means that the employee may read and refer to the information. OSHA interprets "readily accessible" to mean immediate access to MSDSs. The employer has flexibility to determine how this will be accomplished and may provide the data sheets via paper copies, computer terminal access, or some other means of providing readable copy on-site. The only situation in which it would be acceptable to supply a readable copy of the MSDS two hours after the request is made would be in situations where the primary system has failed and two hours describes the shortest time frame possible for delivering the MSDS.

  1. Is an auxiliary power system acceptable to ensure that an MSDS is retrievable in case of a general power failure? Yes. An auxiliary power system would be acceptable to ensure that MSDSs are retrievable in the situation of a general power failure.

  1. What is the employer's responsibility to provide an MSDS in the event of a catastrophe such as an earthquake or fire? The Hazard Communication Standard applies to any chemical which is known to be present in the workplace in such a manner that employees may be exposed under normal conditions of use or in a foreseeable emergency. A foreseeable emergency includes, but would not be limited to, equipment failure, rupture of containers, or failure of control equipment which could result in an uncontrolled release. This does not include fires or other catastrophic events. Laws such as the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act provide an infrastructure at the state and local levels to plan for chemical emergencies and catastrophic events. The employer's obligation is to ensure that MSDSs are readily accessible during each work shift to employees when they are in their work areas.

If we may provide further information or assistance, please do not hesitate to contact OSHA's Office of Health Compliance Assistance on 202-693-2190.


Charles N. Jeffress
Assistant Secretary


July 6, 1990

Betty J. Dabney, Ph.D.
Managing Editor
TOMES Plus Information System
Micromedex, Inc.
600 Grant Street
Denver, Colorado 80203-3527

Dear Dr. Dabney:

Thank you for your letter of May 23, addressed to my attention, and also your letter of May 30, addressed to Ms. Melody Sands of my staff, requesting an interpretation on whether "an equivalent electronic information system" could be used in lieu of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) to satisfy the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), 29 CFR 1910.1200. My office also is in receipt of copies of other letters you have sent to OSHA's Regional Offices. This letter serves as our consolidated response to all these similar requests.

First of all, let me clarify that while each of OSHA's Regional Administrators does have authority over the compliance activities in his or her region, each also ensures that OSHA's standards are uniformly enforced throughout the country. Further, OSHA's -National Office develops and disseminates to all OSHA regions inspection guidelines for OSHA enforcement personnel to utilize when checking for compliance with the HCS. A copy of the current OSHA Instruction, CPL 2-2.38B, "Inspection procedures for the Hazard Communication Standard," is enclosed for your reference. All inspections are conducted in accordance with the policies and procedures set forth in CPL 2-2.38B.

With regard to the specific questions raised in your letters regarding the MSDS requirements of the HCS, the standard requires that the MSDS itself, not just "MSDS information" be kept at the workplace. The Agency has interpreted the MSDS availability requirement to allow the use of computers or telefax or any other means, as long as a readable copy of the MSDS is available to the workers while they are in their work areas, during each workshift. The key to compliance with this provision is that employees have no barriers to access the information (emphasis added by editor). This can be accomplished by the employer maintaining a hard copy of the MSDS itself on-site, or, again, by using a computer or telefax system capable of producing the same readable copy on-site.

Under the HCS, MSDSs are the basis of the employer's hazard communication program. Employers must have at their workplace the MSDS for each hazardous chemical they use, and they may rely on the validity of the MSDS information received from the supplier. As you are aware, it is the responsibility of the chemical manufacturer or importer to evaluate and compile all the hazard information known about the chemicals he produces. It is also his responsibility to transmit and update that information on MSDSs sent to downstream users. Any party who changes a chemical's MSDS or label then becomes the responsible party for the change.

The MSDS used in an employer's hazard communication program must be specific to each chemical used on-site, since each MSDS contains the specific chemical identity as used on and therefore cross-referenced to the required label on the chemical's container. Further, the HCS requires that each chemical manufacturer or importer list on the chemical's MSDS his name, address and telephone number or the same information for a "responsible party" who will provide additional information on the hazardous chemical and appropriate emergency procedures (see 1910.12)(g)(2)(xii)). MSDSs therefore provide specific telephone number or other emergency contact information for the chemical manufacturer, again, for the specific chemical that is being used on-site, as required at (g)(2)(xii) of the standard. For these reasons, the use-of "the same information covered by an MSDS" cannot be used "in lieu of an MSDS" as proposed in your letter.

You also raised a question regarding enforcement of the HCS with respect to "non-manufacturing exposure to drugs (emphasis added by editor) in hospitals." MSDS are required for all drugs defined under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act except for drugs in solid, final form for direct administration to the patient (i.e., tablets, pills, capsules). The Supreme Court upheld this requirement in its decision dated February 21, 1990 (see Dole, Secretary of for, et. al. v. United Steel workers of America et. al. No. 88-1434). The requirement to have on-site MSDSs for pharmaceuticals workers may be exposed to therefore remains in effect and is fully enforceable. In its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the HCS (Federal Register, Vol. 53, No. 152, August 8, 1988), OSHA proposed for public comment the provision that package inserts or information from the Physician's Desk Reference (PDR) be considered a MSDS for purposes of compliance with the HCS in the non-manufacturing sector. This is only a proposed provision, however, awaiting final rulemaking by the Agency. At the present time, the package insert or PDR reference is not acceptable in lieu of the MSDS.

We hope this answers your questions regarding the MSDS requirements of OSHA's HCS. Please feel free to contact us again if we can be of further service.


Patricia K. Clark Director
Designate Directorate of Compliance Programs


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