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December 2, 2004

Laurie Duarte
FAR Secretariat
General Services Administration
FAR Secretariat (MVP)
1800 F Street, NW
Room 4035
Washington, DC 20405

VIA Mail and E-mail:

RE: FAR Case 1998-020 – Hazardous Material Safety Data Sheets

Dear Ms. Duarte:

The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) represents 30,000 safety, health and environmental (SH+E) professionals committed to helping ensure that every occupational setting is safe, healthy and protected from risks. Our members are located in every state and can be found in every industry leading SH+E initiatives that help make sure workers are able to go home from their jobs safe and healthy each day. Our members include many safety and health professionals who are employed by companies that provide goods and services to the federal government under contracts and, therefore, are subject to the FAR regulations under consideration in FAR Case 1998-020.

As requested following our oral statement at the November 23, 2004, public meeting on this issue, we are pleased to submit the following comments concerning the Federal Acquisition Regulations' draft final rule to revise selected parts of Subparts 23.3 and 52.223, affecting Hazardous Material Identification and Material Safety Data. The proposed rule was initially published on March 3, 2004, at 69 Fed. Reg. 10118, and a draft final rule was released on September 23, 2004. A supplemental request for comments on the draft final rule was published on November 10, 2004, at 69 Fed. Reg. 65330. We ask that these comments be included in the administrative record for this rulemaking.

The final rule revises policies and procedures for submission of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) by government contractors who provide hazardous materials to the federal government. ASSE is concerned that under both prevailing practices and those that would be required under the revised regulations, the MSDS submission will prove to be nothing more than a paperwork exercise with little practical impact on those employees of the government and its contractors or subcontractors at the field level.

The requirements imposed upon contractors under the FAR rule go well beyond those required by OSHA of employers and manufacturers and create a two-tiered compliance obligation that will likely foster confusion and impose significant paperwork burdens without a commensurate increase in worker protections. In addition, FAR appears to deviate from the approach to hazard communication adopted by the United Nations in its global harmonization project, which includes a model Hazard Communication Standard that is scheduled for worldwide utilization by January 2008. ASSE urges FAR to carefully review the Global Harmonization Standard (GHS) before completing this initiative and, to the extent possible, bring its MSDS requirements in line with those suggested by the GHS and current OSHA rules.

To summarize ASSE's comments made orally at the November 23, 2004, meeting, hazard communication within the FAR system cannot be accomplished using a “one size fits all” approach. ASSE urges the agency to consider taking the following actions:

  • As discussed at the meeting, clarify in the final rule that manufacturers of equipment are not required to create new MSDSs but can continue to “bundle” together the MSDSs provided to them by manufacturers and/or distributors of the chemicals that are present in such equipment.
  • Clarify that MSDSs satisfying OSHA and/or GHS requirements will also satisfy FAR requirements with respect to provision of information concerning the amount of chemicals present (e.g., by a range of percentages rather than precise amounts of each component chemical). ASSE is aware that this issue is covered through Section 313, which is not currently under review. It is clear, however, that some confusion on this point remains within the government contractor community so we encourage clarification in the preamble of the final rule on this issue.
  • To facilitate storage and access to the MSDS information and make timely updating more feasible – thus improving the protection of workers – permit government contractors to provide MSDS information to the government electronically as an optional alternative to paper copies or CD-systems.

At the November 23, 2004, meeting, FAR officials indicated that they encourage industry to work with the government to establish a more feasible system that will improve information access while minimizing paperwork burdens. ASSE offers its assistance to this project and believes that the Society can make meaningful contributions in light of its members' high level of expertise in the area of chemical safety and hazard communication.

Thank you for your consideration of our comments. Please let us know how we can be of assistance on this critical subject in the future. If you have any questions, please contact Dave Heidorn, ASSE's Manager of Government Affairs and Policy at 847/768-3406 or


Gene Barfield, CSP


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