OSHA’s revised Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires sweeping mandatory training for most employers across the country on the new requirements for chemical labeling as well as the new Safety Data Sheets by Dec. 1, 2013.

Background

OSHA’s revised Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) took effect May 25, 2012. It was revised to align it with the internationally accepted Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). Any employer that uses hazardous chemicals in its workplace is subject to the communication and training requirements of the HCS. OSHA estimates that this revised standard will affect more than 5 million workplaces across the country employing more than 43 million workers. The revised HCS imposes new obligations on chemical manufacturers and importers as well but some of those requirements do not become effective until 2015.

Major Training Issues For Employers

  1. Labels – Employers must train employees on new labeling elements including: product identifiers, signal words and precautionary statements; and
  2. Safety Data Sheets (SDS) – Employers must train employees on the new standardized format of SDS (formerly known as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)). These will cover everything from potential hazards of the chemicals, first aid measures as well as how to deal with it during an accidental release or fire.
  3. Confusing New format for categorizing hazards – The new system rates the severity of hazards on a 5-point scale (5 = least severe and 1 = most severe). The old Hazard Materials Identification System (HMIS) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) use the opposite (5 = most severe and 1 = least severe).
  4. Employers must complete the training for their employees on the new label elements and the SDSs by Dec. 1, 2013. When new updated SDSs are received from chemical manufacturers, employers may be required to update their hazard communication programs if new hazards are identified.

Chemical manufacturers, importers and distributors must comply with new hazard classifications and the classifications of chemical mixtures on their labels by June 1, 2015. Distributors may ship chemicals labeled by manufacturers under the old systems until Dec. 1, 2015. During the transition period, chemical manufacturers may use either labeling system and that is why employers are required to train their employees to recognize the new labels and SDS documents.

Hazard Communication has been one of the most frequently cited standards by OSHA for years. In fact, in fiscal year 2012, it was the most frequently cited standard for general industry. Given this fact, employers are advised to consult competent legal counsel regarding compliance with the revised regulations.