Sen. Enzi Presses OSHA on Material Safety Data Sheets

The chairman of the Senate's OSHA oversight subcommittee, Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., has joined FIGHT Project founder Ron Hayes in asking that OSHA increase the reliability and accessibility of material safety data sheets (MSDSs).

Chemical workers are too often unaware of the hazards they face because of inaccurate, unavailable, or unintelligible MSDSs, according to Hayes, who launched his campaign to address the problem last year with a letter to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

Chao wrote to Hayes on Dec. 17, 2002 that she had asked OSHA Administrator John Henshaw to review OSHA's hazard communication requirements and to recommend possible changes.

In a June 27 letter to Henshaw, Enzi called upon the agency to report within 60 days its findings and recommendations, including "actions OSHA has taken, and plans to take, to increase MSDS reliability and accessibility."

When Hayes raised the issue at the July 9-10 meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, Henshaw admitted that MSDSs "need to be improved."

Henshaw explained that OSHA is developing guidance and training documents that soon will be posted on the agency's Web site, and that OSHA is examining other options.

In a July 5 letter to Henshaw, Hayes recommended three specific actions OSHA should take to improve MSDSs:

  • Issue an alert on the OSHA Web page about the informational problems of MSDSs;
  • Direct that all OSHA's compliance assistance consultants in the agency's 67 field offices conduct an 'inservice' about the problems surrounding MSDSs;
  • Release a directive to all compliance officers to examine MSDSs during inspections and to educate employers on keeping the sheets accurate and up to date.

"These are suggestions that are cost-effective, that we can do immediately, because they won't do anything unless you push them," explained Hayes in an interview. "They can't say this will cost too much."

An OSHA spokesperson said "responses are being drafted" to the letters from Hayes and Enzi.

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