Revisions to OSHA’s Hazardous Communication Standard

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April 10, 2014
Ruth Robinson and Dean Henke
SmithAmundsen Agribusiness Alert

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Does your company manufacture, import, or otherwise handle hazardous chemicals? If you answered “yes,” then OSHA’s recent revision to its Hazardous Communication Standard (“HCS”) applies to you.

Since 1983, OSHA has required chemical manufacturers and importers to disclose information about hazardous materials. The regulation is designed to ensure that employers and employees receive important information about chemical hazards. Since then, the effort has gone international and led to the United Nations creating the Globally Harmonized System of Calculation and Labeling of Chemicals (“GHS”). In order to create uniformity in the ever-expanding international marketplace, OSHA recently modified its HCS to conform to GHS.

The modified HCS includes three major changes: hazard classification, labels, and safety data sheets.

First, there will be a revised hazard classification system with specific criteria for classification of each health and safety hazard. The revised HCS includes specific instructions for hazard evaluation and for determinations as to whether particular mixtures or substances are covered. In addition, there are new hazard classes and categories for health effects based on severity, with criteria for each.

Second, manufacturers of chemicals will be required to provide a label that includes a harmonized signal word, pictogram, and hazard statement for each hazard class and category. Unlike the former regulation, which gave discretion to the information preparer, the modified HCS specifies what information must be provided for each hazard class and category. Labels will require the appropriate pictogram (created by HCS), along with the signal word: “Danger” or “Warning.” The label must also contain a hazard statement that describes the nature of the chemical’s hazards, including the degree of hazard. Finally, the label must include a precautionary statement describing the recommended safety measures necessary to minimize or prevent adverse effects resulting from exposure, improper storage, or handling of a hazardous chemical. There is also an important change in OSHA’s labeling enforcement. In the past, OSHA has not enforced the updating of labels when new hazard information became known. OSHA now intends to enforce this requirement; manufacturers, importers, distributors, and employers have six months to update labels after they become aware of new significant hazard information.

The third major change involves safety data sheets (“SDS”). The SDS will continue to require most of the same information required under the former HCS. However, the new SDS must follow a strict 16-section format. The headings and sequence must conform to the following:

In addition, the SDS must still contain Threshold Limit Values and Permissible Exposure Limits.

OSHA is implementing the modified HCS in phases over several years. Employers were required to train employees on the new labels and safety sheets by December 1, 2013. This is an important aspect to employee safety and employer liability because other companies may begin creating the new labels at any time. It is vital that your employees are prepared to interpret the chemical hazard information right away. By June 1, 2015, all manufacturers, importers, distributors, and employers must comply with all provisions of the modified HCS.