Which OSHA Requirement Would You Toss?

If you could eliminate one OSHA requirement, which would it be? My ax would fall on the universal requirement to retain material safety data sheets (MSDS) for at least 30 years past the point of employment.

By keeping this requirement in place, OSHA squanders employer industrial hygiene (IH) and safety resources on an effort that has questionable practical value. The OSHA rationale for the requirement is counter to professional IH practice. OSHA should revisit this requirement, poll the regulated community, poll interested parties and seriously consider jettisoning the resource wasting accumulation of MSDS.

29 CFR 1910.1020 defines MSDS as an “employee exposure record” and hence must be retained for 30 years. This, in IH practice, is a nonsensical definition. A MSDS sheet at its best only characterizes the properties of toxicity and physical hazards. Exposure is related to dose and a MSDS is mute in this regard. Similarly, the absence of a MSDS does not mean a certain exposure did not occur.

From my experience and talking shop with other IH/safety professionals, I have the following impressions regarding the constant accumulation of MSDS:

  • Involves IH/safety resources that could be better used in the field.
  • A boring tedious job that can dampen morale. [Bravo to anyone who can do it with dedication.]
  • Requests for past MSDS are rare.
  • Accelerating employment turnover; the constant introduction and reformulation of chemical products; and the comings, changes in and demises of employers makes thinking there can be any reliable MSDS record on a national scale tied to past history a pipe dream.
  • MSDS are not standardized and the quality is suspect (see Rekus, IH Insights, July 2008).
  • Not aware that there has been any significant occupational injury or illness prevention arising out of this effort.
  • All of the above infers accumulating MSDS, other than for legal reasons, nonproductive.

What is practical and worthy is expecting an employer to have a MSDS on-hand for every chemical product currently in use and readily available to knowledgeable employees. This is reasonable and inexpensive with the availability of commercial Internet MSDS services. OSHA inspectors can verify this, but the real value is the opportunity to enhance employee involvement in the exposure and safety practice assessment in the present, not some wishful dubious evaluation down the road.

David K. Ermer, CIH, QEP, CLSO, can be reached at [email protected].

TAGS: Archive OSHA
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