• OSHA Finalizes Major Changes to its Hazard Communication Standard
  • April 27, 2012 | Author: Bradford T. Hammock
  • Law Firm: Jackson Lewis LLP - Reston Office
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has finalized a rule revising its hazard communication standard to align it with the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS).  This is one of the agency’s most significant rulemaking efforts in over a decade. The rule, released March 26, 2012, will affect more than 5 million businesses across the country and more than 40 million employees will need to be retrained on hazard communication.  OSHA estimates the annualized compliance costs will be more than $200 million for employers.  Annualized net monetized benefits are estimated at approximately $550 million.

    The rule is broad in scope. All employers should familiarize themselves with the requirements and assess their workplaces to ensure compliance by the deadlines established by the agency.

    Current Hazard Communication Standard
    OSHA’s 30-year-old hazard communication standard (29 CFR 1910.1200) is the most significant “right-to-know” rule in the country regarding hazardous chemicals in the workplace.  It requires chemical manufacturers to evaluate the chemicals they produce and determine if they are hazardous.  It requires manufacturers to inform downstream employers and employees of the hazards the chemicals pose through various communication means, such as labels and “Material Safety Data Sheets” (MSDSs).  Employers with hazardous chemicals in their workplaces must implement a hazard communication program and train employees on the hazards.

    A number of other countries have “right-to-know” laws that perform the same function as the OSHA standard, but they contain different requirements, particularly with respect to how the key hazard information is communicated.  Chemical manufacturers who ship their products internationally must navigate differing and complex hazard communication laws.

    To reconcile the international differences, the GHS was developed under the auspices of the United Nations in an attempt to standardize the classification of hazardous chemicals and the communication of those hazards.  Once adopted globally, the GHS is expected to improve trade across countries because chemical manufacturers will be able to more easily determine the hazards of their products and can communicate those hazards to downstream users through standardized means.

    Countries must incorporate the GHS into their own laws, which has proven difficult in some instances.  OSHA’s final rule represents the culmination of years of work by the agency.

    Final Rule
    The final rule primarily affects three aspects of the current hazard communication standard.  The first and second affect chemical manufacturers most directly.  The third significantly impacts any employer in the country that uses hazardous chemicals in the workplace.

    1.  Hazard classification

    The rule changes the means that chemical manufacturers use to determine whether, and to what extent, a chemical is hazardous.  OSHA’s current hazard communication standard requires manufacturers to consider as hazardous any chemical used in the workplace for which there is statistically significant evidence, based on at least one study conducted in accordance with established scientific principles, that acute or chronic health effects may occur in exposed employees.  Under the existing standard, a health hazard includes chemicals that are carcinogens, toxic or highly toxic agents, reproductive toxins, irritants, corrosives, and sensitizers, among others.

    The new rule standardizes the classification process used by manufacturers.  Manufacturers would be required to classify any health or physical hazards of the chemical and determine the “category” of each class.

    OSHA is adopting the following hazard classes for health hazards:

    • Acute toxicity
    • Skin corrosion/irritation
    • Serious eye damage/eye irritation
    • Respiratory or skin sensitization
    • Germ cell mutagenicity
    • Carcinogenicity


    • Reproductive toxicity
    • Specific target organ toxicity single exposure
    • Specific target organ toxicity repeated or prolonged exposure
    • Aspiration hazard

    For physical hazards, the rule includes the following classes:

    • Explosives
    • Flammable gases
    • Flammable aerosols
    • Oxidizing gases
    • Gases under pressure
    • Flammable liquids
    • Flammable solids
    • Self-reactive chemicals


    • Oxidizing liquids
    • Oxidizing solids
    • Organic peroxides
    • Corrosive to metals
    • Pyrophoric liquids
    • Pyrophoric solids
    • Self-heating chemicals
    • Chemical which, in contact with water, emit flammable gases

    Within each hazard class, the rule requires the manufacturer to place the chemical into categories.  For example, overall hazard Category 1 for carcinogens represents a “known or presumed human carcinogen,” where the categorization is supported by epidemiological and/or animal data.  Category 2 represents a “suspected human carcinogen,” where there is some evidence supporting the carcinogenicity of the chemical, but it is not convincing enough to place the substance in Category 1.

    Overall, the rule requires manufacturers to look at all the evidence associated with a chemical, and place the chemical within these hazard categories.

    2.  Provision of Labels and Safety Data Sheets

    Once a manufacturer classifies a hazardous chemical, it must communicate that information to downstream users.  The rule standardizes the labels and Safety Data Sheets used to convey this information.


    The current hazard communication rule requires that labels on hazardous chemical containers include the identity of the hazardous chemical, appropriate warnings that convey the specific physical and health hazards, and the name and address of the chemical manufacturer, importer or other responsible party.  Importantly, the existing rule does not require a specific format for the labels.

    Under the new rule, all labels include four, new standardized elements:

    • Signal word - either DANGER or WARNING - to denote the severity of the hazard.
    • Pictogram that includes a symbol along with other graphical elements, such as a border or background color.
    • Hazard statements describing the hazards associated with a chemical.
    • Precautionary statements to describe recommended measures that should be taken to protect against hazardous exposures.

    Safety Data Sheets

    The final rule also includes a standardized format for Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), referred to as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) under the current hazard communication standard.  By standardizing the format and provision of information, OSHA believes that employers and employees will better understand the important information conveyed on the SDSs.

    The following content, in order, is required for each SDS:

    Hazard(s) identification
    Composition/information on ingredients
    First-aid measures
    Fire-fighting measures
    Accidental release measures
    Handling and storage
    Exposure controls/personal protection
    Physical and chemical properties
    Stability and reactivity
    Toxicological information
    Other information, including date of preparation of the last revision

    3.  Training

    Largely as a result of the above two changes, OSHA’s final rule requires employers to train employees on the new hazard classifications, labels, and SDSs.  Thus, every employer in the country that has a hazard communication program will have to retrain its employees in the new system.

    4.  Compliance Dates

    OSHA has given manufacturers and employers time to come into compliance with the new requirements:

    Deadline for Full Compliance Requirement(s)



    December 1, 2013


    Train employees on the new label elements and SDS format.

    June 1, 2015


    Full compliance with all provisions of the final rule, except that (1) distributors have until December 1, 2015, to ship containers without compliant labels, and (2) employers have until June 1, 2016, to update alternative workplace labeling and hazard communication programs and perform training to account for newly identified physical or health hazards.

    During the transition to full compliance, employers may follow the current standard, the provisions of the new rule, or both.

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    This is only a brief summary of the final rule.  OSHA’s hazard communication standard is an important rule for employers and employees.  It reaches the vast majority of worksites around the country and employers should take appropriate action to ensure compliance.