OBJECTIVES: This study assesses both the success of medical practitioners in accessing hazardous substances' information from product manufacturers and the accuracy and clinical usefulness of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) presented by workers with suspected occupational contact dermatitis (OCD). PATIENTS/METHODS: 100 consecutively presented MSDS were collected from 42 workers attending an occupational dermatology clinic. Product manufacturers were contacted to verify ingredients. MSDS were evaluated for compliance with the Australian criteria for listing of OCD relevant information (sensitizers present at a concentration > or =1%, irritants present at a concentration > or =20%), and for clinical usefulness. All sensitizers were checked for clinical relevance to the worker's dermatitis. RESULTS: Manufacturers supplied product constituents for 77/100 MSDS. 58 MSDS satisfied the Australian standard. 57/58 MSDS were deemed clinically useful. Irritants were listed for 19/23 MSDS and sensitizers were listed for 30/68 MSDS (P = 0.001). 3 MSDS contained sensitizers, which were clinically relevant to the presenting worker's dermatitis, 1 appropriately listed, 1 present at > or =1% but not listed, and 1 present at <1% in the product and therefore, not required to be listed. CONCLUSIONS: Sensitizers are frequently omitted from MSDS and clinicians are often unsuccessful in obtaining crucial information from manufacturers. MSDS are inadequate for the protection and diagnosis of workers with suspected OCD.