How Long Must an Employer Keep an MSDS?

by Heidi Cardenas; Updated September 26, 2017
OSHA requires employers to accurately inventory and document hazardous materials with material safety data sheets.

Material safety data sheets are records regarding the ingredients, health and environmental effects and properties of chemical substances, including instructions for safe handling and storage. MSDSs are required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as part of a hazard communication program. Employers are required by law to obtain an MSDS for every toxic substance in their workplace, maintain them on file, make them accessible to employees and train employees on them.

MSDS Information

MSDSs must include information on chemical identity, manufacturer’s contact information, list of ingredients, physical and chemical characteristics, fire and explosion hazard data, reactivity data (how the chemicals react with mixed or stored), health hazard information, safe handling and use information, control measures, primary routes of entry (inhalation or skin absorption) and emergency and first-aid procedures. This information must be maintained on file, even if the substance is no longer currently being used in the workplace.

OSHA Standards

OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard outlines employer’s responsibility to obtain and maintain MSDSs on file, make them accessible and train employees on them as part of a required hazard communication program. The Access to Employee Exposure and Medical Records defines MSDSs as employee exposure records and requires all employee exposure records to be maintained for at least 30 years.

MSDS Files

A hazard communication program is required per the general industry and construction Hazard Communication Standards, and must include an inventory of toxic substances in the workplace. All MSDSs must be maintained on file for 30 years per OSHA’s Access to Employee Exposure and Medical Records Standard. The sheets must be available at all times for review for informational and documentation purposes. Original MSDS sheets may be replaced with updated sheets, but the original information must be maintained identifying the substance and when and where it was used for the 30-year period.

Who is Responsible

Employers are required to maintain a clear inventory of all substances and formulations that present a hazard in their workplace, and manufacturers and suppliers are required to prepare and distribute complete MSDS data on all toxic substances used, created, sold and shipped. The inventory documents substances with MSDSs obtained from manufacturers and suppliers. MSDS data is in the form of a printed summary of all information about the substance necessary to inform about hazards, handling and storage and protective measures. The MSDS data may be stored in electronic form only if it is made easily and readily accessible to employees in that form and must still be maintained for 30 years.

About the Author

Heidi Cardenas specializes in human resources, business and personal finance, small-business advice, home and garden and home improvement. Her professional background includes human resources and business administration, technical writing and corporate communications. She has studied horticulture and business administration, and enjoys guest blogging for publications including Herb Companion Magazine, Natural Home Living Magazine, and Mother Earth Living.

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