OSHA Proposes Changes to Hazard Communications Standard

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed a new rule on Feb. 16 to its Hazard Communication Standard that ensures workers understand the hazards of chemicals they handle.

This proposed new rule updates the standard so that it will be aligned with the current version of the United Nations Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS).

OSHA’s proposed changes include codifying enforcement policies in its compliance directive, clarifying the requirements on transporting hazardous chemicals, adding alternative labeling provisions for small containers and adopting new requirements for preparing safety data sheets.

The USW Health, Safety and Environment Department is studying the proposed changes to ensure that they do not compromise safety. The rulemaking may also provide an opportunity to correct some problems in the original rule.

Hazard Communications Standard

The current standard mandates that chemical manufacturers and/or importers classify the hazards of chemicals they produce or import into the United States.

It also requires employers to tell their employees about the hazardous chemicals they are exposed to through a hazard communications program, labels, information and training. In addition, employers also have to maintain a GHS-style, 16-section safety data sheet for each chemical deemed to be a health or physical hazard under U.S. law and regulations.

OSHA last updated the standard in 2012. Since then, the agency said that research revealed that the 2012 changes, when implemented appropriately, were effective in helping workers to understand, avoid and reduce exposure to workplace hazardous chemicals. Studies also indicated that the 16-section safety data sheet format improved comprehension.

According to industry representatives, the training on warning pictograms and hazard statements received a positive response from workers because it helped them distinguish acute toxicity from chronic health effects.        

OSHA said research also showed that consistent labeling requirements helped employers identify the most hazardous materials in the workplace, understand better the health effects of these chemicals, and identify which ones they could replace with safer alternatives.

Other key changes

Employer feedback resulted in a number of modifications in the proposed rule, such as additional flexibility for labeling bulk shipments of hazardous chemicals. This includes allowing labels to be placed on the immediate container or transmitted with shipping papers, bills of lading or other technological or electronic means that are immediately available to workers in a printed format on the receiving end of the shipment.

Two other significant proposals include alternative label options for shipments and requirements to update labels with new chemical hazard information for containers that are ready to ship but are awaiting future distribution.

OSHA will accept comments on this proposed rule until April 19, 2021. Comments may be submitted electronically to Docket No. OSHA-2019-0001 at http://www.regulations.gov.

Press Inquiries

Media Contacts

Communications Director:
Jess Kamm at 412-562-2446

USW@WORK (USW magazine)
Editor R.J. Hufnagel

For industry specific inquiries,
Call USW Communications at 412-562-2442

Mailing Address

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Communications Department
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Pittsburgh, PA 15222