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Question of the Week: Hazard Communication: GHS Is Coming

Posted on September 14, 2011 by James Griffin

Q. I’ve heard that OSHA is about to finalize a new Hazard Communication Standard that will change everything we’re currently doing under the standard. Is that true?
A. OSHA is planning to finalize a new Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200) before the end of 2011; however, the proposed changes would not change “everything” that employers are presently required to do under the standard. The proposed changes to the Hazard Communication Standard will essentially affect three things:
  1. Hazard classification
  2. Required elements on container labels
  3. Required information and format of “Material Safety Data Sheets”
Hazard Classification Under the New Rule
The new standard will adopt the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) system for classifying hazards. As a result, the definitions of the various physical and health hazards will be different, although not radically so. In addition, the new system will include “unclassified hazards.” These would be chemicals that evidence indicates may pose adverse physical or health effects when present in the workplace under normal conditions of use or in a foreseeable emergency, but that do not currently meet any of the specified criteria for physical or health hazard classification. One possible example under this last category might be explosive dusts.
Labels Under the New Rule
The new standard will require “GHS labels” to be placed on all shipped containers. The label will need to include a harmonized signal word, standard pictogram(s), and hazard and precautionary statements for each hazard class and category posed by the chemical.
Required Information and Format of “Material Safety Data Sheets”
Under the new rule, Material Safety Data Sheets will become Safety Data Sheets. The Safety Data Sheets will follow the same 16-section format as the ANSI standard for Safety Data Sheets (ANSI Z400.1). Of these 16 sections, 12 will be mandatory and four will be optional because they consist of information that is beyond OSHA’s scope of enforcement (e.g., transportation-related information). In addition, the new standard will include a new mandatory Appendix D that will identify information that is required in each section of the Safety Data Sheet.
Elements of the Standard That Are Not Expected to Change Under the New Rule
The overall framework of the Hazard Communication Standard is expected to remain unchanged. As proposed, there will be no substantive changes made to:
  • The scope and application of the standard
  • The requirements for a written hazard communication program
  • Training of employees working with or exposed to hazardous chemical in their workplace
  • The requirements for dealing with trade secrets
In addition, even though changes are being made to how chemicals are classified and the required information on labels and Safety Data Sheets, the other components of classification, labeling, and Safety Data Sheets will remain the same. For example:
  • Classification will still be the responsibility of the chemical manufacturer or importer, and the employer will still be able to rely on this classification.
  • Requirements for labels to be legible, in English, and prominently displayed remain unchanged, and materials and activities excluded from labeling under the current standard are expected to remain excluded under the new standard.
  • MSDS requirements for distribution, maintenance in workplace, accessibility to employees, etc. will essentially remain unchanged.
Expected Date of the New Rule
OSHA indicated in the 2011 Spring Semiannual Regulatory Agenda that the proposed rule was expected to be finalized and published by September, 2011. At the moment, however, OSHA has not submitted the final rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), a necessary final step in the process of promulgating a new rule. Once a rule has been submitted to the OMB, it typically takes between 30 and 60 days before the rule can be finalized and published in the Federal Register. Because of this, while it is still entirely possible that the new rule will come out by the end of 2011, it is somewhat unlikely that it will appear before the end of September 2011.