Right to Know Law

The Massachusetts Right to Know (RTK) Law became effective in 1984. Initially the law applied to both the private and public sector in Massachusetts. However, Federal OSHA now regulates the private sector with similar requirements under the Hazard Communication Standard. Therefore, the Right to Know Law only applies to State, county and municipal workplaces in Massachusetts.

The workplace portion of the Mass Right to Know law requires that information on chemical hazards be given to employees by providing them with access to Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), by labeling containers of chemicals and by training on chemical hazards and safe work procedures

Who is covered?

All state, municipal and county employees. There are several exemptions including research labs which have obtained an exemption from the Department of Public Health and police stations and armories where ammunition is stored.

What chemicals are covered?

All chemicals which contain 1% or more (2% if an impurity) of one or more ingredients listed on the Mass Substance list are covered by the Right to Know Law. In order to determine this, it is necessary to request a MSDS from the manufacturer and compare the ingredients to the list.

Alternatively, it is the policy of our office that it is acceptable for a municipality, County or State facility to assume that all chemicals which have a MSDS listing any type of hazard are covered by the Right to Know Law. This alternative may be easier and less time consuming and will actually be more protective rather than less protective.

Note products intended for consumer use, office supplies, foodstuffs, gasoline, fuel oils, alcoholic beverages and articles as defined in the law may also be exempt.

When do I need a MSDS?

A material safety data sheet (MSDS) is a document which provides information on ingredients, hazards and practices needed to work safely with the product. The MSDS is developed by product manufacturer and must be obtained by request if one is not sent with the product. A MSDS must be requested for all chemicals in order to determine which chemicals are covered by the law. Employers must file MSDS’s in an organized manner at a central location in the workplace such that the employer can easily find the MSDS if an employee requests one.

What are labeling requirements?

Covered substances in containers more than 1 gallon or five pounds, must be labeled in accordance with the regulations. The labels must include the chemical names of all substances listed on the Mass Substance List if they are present in the container at quantities greater than 1% (2% if impurity). Containers of chemicals listed in NFPA Code 49 in containers greater than 5 gallons or 30 pounds must also be labeled with the proper NFPA label.

Alternatively, it is the policy of the Massachusetts Labor and Workforce Development office that containers which are labeled in accordance with the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard will also be considered to meet the intent of the Mass Right to Know Law. Under Hazard Communication, containers must be labeled with the name of the product and the health hazard warnings (such as flammable or corrosive). Note that most manufacturers label containers in accordance with the Hazard Communication Standard since this is a Federal regulation and applies to all private sector workplaces in the country.

What are the training requirements?

Employees who are exposed to chemical hazards must be trained annually. The initial training for new employees must be done within 30 days of employment. A record including a description of the training given, the date of the training and the names of both the instructor and employees who attended the training must be kept for the duration of the employment.

The training must include a summary of the employees rights under the law. It also must include information on how to read a MSDS. Finally the most critical aspect of the training is informing the employees of the specific hazards and safe work practices for preventing these hazards.

Are there posting requirements?

A Right to Know Workplace notice must be posted in a central location at all workplaces which are covered by the RTK Law.

What rights do employees have?

Employees have rights under the law which includes the employee’s right to request a copy of a MSDS and in certain circumstances the right to refuse to work if a MSDS is not provided. More detailed information on employees rights are given on the required workplace notice and in the law and regulations.