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The short answer is: No.

Based upon careful reading of OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.1020, and several letters of interpretation, you are not required to keep material safety data sheets, MSDSs, for 30 years.

You are required to keep some record of the identity of the substances or agents to which employees are exposed for 30 years. To that end, OSHA recognizes an MSDS as an acceptable record – and as you will see, MSDS retention may be your easiest recourse.

If you choose not to retain the actual MSDS, then OSHA requires you to have not only a record of the identity (chemical name if known) of the substance or agent, but also information regarding where and when it was used.

Again, if you do not keep the MSDS, then what ever record you do keep must include information about ‘where’ and ‘when’ the chemical or substance was used.

This seeming contradiction between what OSHA requires from an MSDS vs. other record types was pointed out in a Letter of Interpretation dated November 8, 1985. In it, OSHA explained that during the development of the rule, employers successfully objected to the inclusion of “where” and “when” on MSDSs. Yet, OSHA was successful in having that information be a requirement for those employers choosing an alternative method of record keeping.

The purpose of Standard 29 CFR 1910.1020, is “…to provide employees and their designated representatives a right of access to relevant exposure and medical records; and to provide representatives of the Assistant Secretary a right of access to these records in order to fulfill responsibilities under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.”

Under Standard 1910.1020, you are required to provide employees and former employees access to records. The standard reads, “If your employer cannot provide access to your records within fifteen working days, they must tell you the reason for the delay and the earliest date when your records can be made available.”

Furthermore, your obligation to employees (and former employees) does not end if you sell your business or cease doing business before the 30 year window has expired; in such instances you are required to transfer all records either to the successor employer or to the Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Your responsibilities under Standard 1910.1020 should not be confused with your obligations under Standard 1910.1200, which states that you must make MSDSs readily accessible to employees during their work shift. Considering that your obligations under 1910.1200 require you to have MSDSs, it might make sense just to keep those MSDSs for compliance with 1910.1020.

A good electronic MSDS management tool can help keep you in compliance with both standards.