• Hazard Communication Standard - Changes Start on December 1, 2013
  • October 18, 2013 | Authors: Nancy W. McBrady; David B. Van Slyke
  • Law Firm: Preti, Flaherty, Beliveau & Pachios, LLP - Portland Office
  • The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is changing its Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) by aligning it with the United Nation's Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). Since 1983, the HCS has required employers to disclose hazardous substances in the workplace on labels and material safety data sheets, but has allowed that to occur in formats of the employer's choosing.

    GHS is an international effort that standardizes the system of chemical hazard communication on labels and Safety Data Sheets (SDS), as well as creates a common approach to chemical classification. It is intended to eliminate confusion among countries that use various labeling and classifications systems.

    According to OSHA, "the revised standard will improve the quality and consistency of hazard information in the workplace, making it safer for workers by providing easily understandable information on appropriate handling and safe use of hazardous chemicals." Further, given the global reach of GHS, greater consistency among countries is intended to reduce trade barriers and improve business productivity for American businesses that handle, store and utilize hazardous chemicals.

    OSHA is making three important changes to the HCS as a result of GHS:

    • Hazard Classification - Chemical manufacturers and importers are required to determine the hazards of the chemicals they manufacture or import. The new hazard definitions will provide specific criteria for classification of health and physical hazards and the classification of mixtures. The specific criteria ensure that evaluations of hazardous effects are consistent across manufacturers, and that labels and SDSs (formerly called Material Safety Data Sheets) are more accurate.
    • Labels - Chemical manufacturers and importers must incorporate labels that use a harmonized signal word (e.g., "danger" or "warning"), pictogram (e.g., symbols, borders or colors), hazard statement, and precautionary statement for each hazard class and category.
    • Safety Data Sheets - The new format of the sheets has 16 sections, although it requires essentially the same information as required by the original 1994 HCS. The new format ensures consistency in presenting important product information.

    Implementation, Training and Timing
    The changes are being phased in over the next 30 months, with specific deadlines along the way. During the phase-in period, employers are required to be in compliance with either the existing HCS or the revised HCS; employers may also choose to be in compliance with both standards, but are not required to be. According to OSHA guidance, OSHA understands that there will be a time where labels and SDSs under both standards will be present in the workplace, which is acceptable, and "employers are not required to maintain two sets of labels and SDSs for compliance purposes."

    The deadlines for compliance with the revised HCS are as follows:



    Who Must Comply 


    Train employees on the new label elements and SDS format



    Comply with all modified provisions of rule, except: 
    Distributors may ship products labeled by the chemical manufacturers under the old system until December 1, 2015.

    Chemical Manufacturers, Importers, Distributors, and Employers


    Update alternative workplace labeling and hazard communication program as necessary, and provide additional employee training for newly identified physical or health hazards.


    Transition Period (between 12/01/2013 and 6/01/2016)

    May comply with either 29 CFR 1910.1200 (final standard), current standard or both.

    Chemical Manufacturers, Importers, Distributors and Employers

    * This date coincides with the European Union implementation date for classification of mixtures

    The December 1, 2013, deadline for training employees on the new HCS requirements is right around the corner. While OSHA has not yet announced any enforcement initiative in this area, future OSHA inspections will no doubt include specific focus on these new training requirements in the near term and on compliance with the new labeling requirements as the transition period closes.