By at least the summer of 2016, over 5 million workplaces and 43 million employees in the United States will be impacted by the newly revised federal Hazard Communication (HazCom) standard, the law governing employee warnings concerning the potential for hazardous chemical exposure.  In March 2012, OSHA, the agency charged with enforcement of worker health and safety laws, substantially revised the HazCom standard to adopt the United Nation’s Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) within the amended HazCom standard.  Among other reasons, the changes were intended by OSHA to require a more standardized means of classifying workplace exposure hazards and conveying that information in a more effective, universally recognizable manner for the benefit of employees. 

The new HazCom standard impacts chemical manufacturers and importers, as well as employers who use those chemicals in the workplace.  In this regard, the revised standard features three major changes. First, the hazard definition is amended to provide specific criteria for classification of health and physical hazards, in addition to classification of chemical mixtures, which is intended to improve consistency and accuracy across manufacturers and importers.  Second, manufacturers and importers must employ warning labels utilizing a unified signal word, pictogram, hazard statement, and precautionary statement corresponding to each hazard class and category presented by the exposure risk at issue.  Third, the new standard dispenses with the old “Material Safety Data Sheet” rubric in favor of a “Safety Data Sheet” (SDS) format presented in 16 standardized sections.  Additionally, employers are required to train employees on the new label elements and SDS format by December 2013, with full compliance with the final rule beginning in 2015. 

Implementation of the new HazCom standard is currently underway, with the phase-in period between the old and new standard taking place between December 1, 2013 and June 1, 2016.  During this period, employers are required to comply with either the existing HazCom standard, the revised HazCom standard, or both.  Further information is available directly from OSHA at https://www.osha.gov/dsg/hazcom/.