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Online distribution of MSDSs

March 1, 2009

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We are a wholesaler with a small retail operation as well. Are we required to provide a Material Safety Data Sheet with every retail product sold? If so, must they be on paper or can we provide our customers with a Website link where they can obtain the MSDSs?

Answered by Robert A. Ernst, associate editor, J.J. Keller & Associates Inc., Neenah, WI.

We know that the employer must have an MSDS available for each hazardous chemical in the workplace. Those MSDSs must be supplied to the employer by the chemical manufacturer, importer or supplier. But what does the regulation say about downstream distribution of MSDSs?

In 1910.1200(g)(6), the OSHA hazard communication standard states:

"The chemical manufacturer or importer shall either provide Material Safety Data Sheets with the shipped containers or send them to the distributor or employer prior to or at the time of the shipment. The chemical manufacturer or importer shall also provide distributors or employers with a Material Safety Data Sheet upon request."

Now let's look at what OSHA says about wholesalers' and retailers' responsibilities to provide MSDSs to purchasers. In 1910.1200(g)(7), OSHA says:

"Retail distributors selling hazardous chemicals to employers having a commercial account shall provide a Material Safety Data Sheet to such employers upon request, and shall post a sign or otherwise inform them that a Material Safety Data Sheet is available."

The regulation continues:

"Wholesale distributors selling hazardous chemicals to employers over the counter may also provide Material Safety Data Sheets upon the request of the employer at the time of the over-the-counter purchase, and shall post a sign or otherwise inform such employers that a Material Safety Data Sheet is available."

The regulation requires that you, as a distributor, post a sign saying MSDSs are available upon request to commercial accounts, or let employers know by some other means that you will supply MSDSs. And, of course, you are expected to provide MSDSs to employers when they request one.

As to whether a paper copy of the MSDS is necessary or whether you can distribute them via a Website, OSHA addresses this in a letter of interpretation dated Feb. 20, 1997.

It states:

"Manufacturers who choose to use [electronic distribution] must be aware of and ensure provisions for the following:

  • In the event of a system failure, a backup system should be available. For instance, if Internet access is unavailable, due to a large volume of use, the downstream user must have another means for receiving the required information quickly.
  • In the event of a significant change to the health hazard information on the MSDS, the manufacturer is responsible to ensure that downstream users are aware that the updated MSDS is available. OSHA does not consider posting a revision date on a viewing screen as adequately informing downstream users of significant changes to the health hazard information on the MSDS. Some positive means of contact, such as a letter or an e-mail notification, stating that the MSDS has been changed and that the updated MSDS is available, would be required."
In summary, you do not have to supply an MSDS with each product sold, but you have to be prepared to supply MSDSs to employers who purchase hazardous chemicals from you.

You may use a Website to make the MSDSs available to your customers, as long as you "provide a backup system and notify customers of significant changes to the MSDS via letter or e-mail."



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