Final Hazard Communications Rule Released by OSHA

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (“OSHA”) has issued its Final Rule updating its 1983 Hazard Communications Standard, 29 C.F.R. §1910.1200 (“HCS”). The HCS ensures that the hazards of all chemicals produced in, or imported to the United States are evaluated and effectively communicated to employers and employees. It achieves this goal by using a comprehensive labeling system, material safety data sheets and required employee training.

The Final Rule represents OSHA’s implementation of the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (“GHS”). The GHS resulted from nearly 20 years of international efforts to create uniform standards for hazard communication, culminating in a framework that competent authorities such as OSHA may implement based on domestic needs and concerns. OSHA described the old HCS as giving workers the “right to know” and says the new Final Rule gives workers the “right to understand.”

The major changes in the Final Rule include the following:

First, while  anufacturers and importers continue to be required to determine the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import, the updated HCS contains specific additional criteria to determine health and physical hazards. Importantly, OSHA has added a supplemental class called Hazards Not Otherwise Classified (“HNOC”). While the Final Rule does not require labels to address HNOC chemicals, it does require that they be included in material safety data sheets (“MSDSs”) and training.

Second, the Final Rule implements new labeling requirements. Under the old HCS, label requirements were performance-oriented and did not specify required information. Under the Final Rule, however, manufacturers and importers must include:

  • Product identifiers;
  • Signal words;
  • Hazard statement(s);
  • Pictograms;
  • Precautionary statements; and
  • The name, address and telephone number of the responsible party.

Third, the Final Rule implements a new format for MSDSs to ensure consistency in the presentation of important protection against hazard information. The new format lists 16 sections with specified sequencing and minimum required content.

The fourth and final major change relates to training. The Final Rule requires that, in addition to the existing training requirements, workers must be trained by December 1, 2013, on the new label requirements and the new MSDS format.

The Final Rule also contains several changes from the Proposed Final Rule, including maintaining the Threshold Limit Values and carcinogen statuses established by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists; clarification that the borders of pictograms must be red on the label; flexibility regarding required precautionary and hazard statements; and longer deadlines for full implementation.

The changes under the Final Rule will be phased in gradually, beginning with the December 1, 2013, effective date for worker training. By June 1, 2015, chemical manufacturers, importers, distributors and employers must comply with all modified provisions of the Final Rule, with the exception that distributors may ship products labeled by manufacturers under the old system until December 1, 2015. Finally, by June 1, 2016, employers must update their workplace labeling and hazard communication programs and provide additional employee training for newly identified hazards. During the transition period, employers may continue to comply with the current standard, the new standard, or both.

OSHA estimates that the Final Rule will impact over five million workplaces and 43 million workers. According to OSHA, employers will save between $585 million and $798 million annually, mostly through increased productivity for health and safety managers and logistics personnel. In addition, OSHA estimates that the Final Rule will prevent more than 500 workplace injuries and 43 fatalities annually.

For More Information

If you have questions about OSHA requirements or your obligations when dealing with hazardous materials, contact Kenneth D. Kleinman at 215.751.1946 or the Stevens & Lee attorney with whom you normally consult regarding labor and employment issues.

This News Alert has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be construed as, and does not constitute, legal advice on any specific matter. For more information, please see the disclaimer.