OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) is now 25 years old. The Standard, which is frequently violated by employers, makes information about chemicals widely available to U.S. employees through material safety data sheets (MSDSs), employee training, and the classification and labeling of workplace chemicals.
Other U.S. agencies (such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission) have similar requirements--but each agency has its own definitions and purpose. There is no standardization between agencies, or among countries. While many countries have similar requirements, they differ enough to result in varying (and sometimes conflicting) protection and labeling requirements when materials enter the United States.
This year, the United Nations will be implementing the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS)--a new global system that will standardize definitions, data sheets, classification of materials, and labeling around the world. U.S. agencies will be making decisions about adopting these requirements in the U.S.
While this is ultimately good news for all concerned, in the short term the implementation of the GHS will require changes in all American workplace hazard communication programs--including all new labels and safety data sheets.
In a recent BLR webinar, Jennifer Silk, an occupational safety and health consultant and a training advisor with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), discussed the status of GHS and what it would mean for your business. Silk is retired from OSHA where she was Deputy Director of Standards and Guidance and the agency's lead expert on hazard communication.
Here is a timeline of OSHA regulatory activities regarding GHS:
- In the May 16, 2005, semi-annual regulatory agenda, OSHA indicated that it was adding modification of the HCS to adopt the GHS.
- On September 12, 2006, OSHA completed the first step by publishing an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR).
- The ANPR outlined how OSHA views the impact of the GHS on current agency requirements, and solicited public comment.
- The agency requested comment to help develop regulatory analyses as well as compliance assistance.
- OSHA has reviewed the comments and is in the process of developing a proposed rule and accompanying analyses.
- These documents must be reviewed in OSHA, the Department of Labor, and the Office of Management and Budget before publication.
- After the reviews are completed and the proposal published, a public comment period and public hearing will take place.
- The final rule will be based on the public record developed on the proposal.
- Goal for publishing the proposed rulemaking is October 2008.
- Final rule could be published 12 months to 18 months after that.
- Compliance is likely to be phased in over several years.
Impact on OSHA Requirements
The HCS includes the primary affected requirements although other standards including the Process Safety Management Standard and Flammable and Combustible Liquids Standard would be affected.
OSHA has more requirements affected by the GHS than other U.S. Agencies. These requirements cover acute and chronic hazards, labels and MSDSs, and over 7 million workplaces and 945,000 hazardous chemical products.
The HCS is more performance oriented while the GHS is more specific.
The biggest difference between HCS and GHS is in the labeling provisions which would include hazard pictograms. HCS allows any order of information in MSDSs. GHS specifies the order of information to be used in safety data sheets.
Depending on the provisions adopted by OSHA, training requirements of the HCS would also most likely change.
Many comments received by OSHA included concerns about the costs to adopt the GHS.
More information on GHS may be found on OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov/dsg/hazcom/index.html.