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Revised HazCom Standard

The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) is now aligned with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS), improving 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, as well as harmonizing U.S. hazard communication rules with those used internationally. OSHA estimates that the revised HCS will result in the prevention of 43 fatalities and 585 injuries and illnesses annually.

The three major areas of change are in hazard classification, labels, and safety data sheets (SDS).

  • Hazard classification: The hazard definitions changed to provide specific criteria for classification of health and physical hazards, as well as classification of mixtures. These specific criteria will help to ensure that evaluations of hazardous effects are consistent across manufacturers, and that labels and safety data sheets are more accurate.
  • Labels: Chemical manufacturers and importers are required to provide a label that includes a harmonized signal word, pictogram, and hazard statement for each hazard class and category. Precautionary statements must also be provided.
  • Safety Data Sheets: SDSs now include a specified 16-section format.

GHS stands for the Globally Harmonized System of Chemical Classification and Labeling.

The Globally Harmonized System (GHS) is an international approach to hazard communication, providing agreed criteria for the classification of chemical hazards, and a standardized approach to label elements and safety data sheets. The GHS provides harmonized classification criteria for health, physical, and environmental hazards of chemicals. OSHA has not included the environmental hazards in the HCS.

The revised HCS has specific criteria for each health and physical hazard. It provides detailed instructions for hazard evaluation and determinations for classifying chemical substances and mixtures. It also establishes both hazard classes and hazard categories—for most of the effects, the classes are divided into categories that reflect the relative severity of the effect. Chemical manufacturers and importers are responsible for classifying the hazards of the chemicals they manufacture or import.

General Questions

OSHA's HazCom standard applies to general industry, shipyard, marine terminals, longshoring, and construction employment and covers chemical manufacturers, importers, employers, and employees exposed to chemical hazards. Basically, any employer with one employee and one hazardous chemical is covered.

Also, the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) issued guidance to the mining industry in 2013 to clarify that mine operators who meet OSHA's HazCom standard will be in compliance with MSHA's hazard communication standard.

There are only two types of work operations where coverage of the rule is limited (but not totally eliminated). These are laboratories and operations where chemicals are only handled in sealed containers (e.g., a warehouse). The limited provisions for these workplaces can be found in paragraph (b). Basically, employers having these types of work operations need only keep labels on containers as they are received, maintain safety data sheets that are received and give employees access to them, and provide information and training for employees. Employers do not have to have written hazard communication programs and lists of chemicals for these types of operations.

A written hazard communication program helps employers to inform and train their employees properly and to design and put in place employee protection programs. It also provides necessary hazard information to employees, so they can participate in, support, and be part of the protective measures at their workplaces.

The written HazCom program must include information on container labeling, collection, availability of safety data sheets, and the employee training program. It also must contain a list of the hazardous chemicals, the means the employer will use to inform employees of the hazards of non-routine tasks (for example, the cleaning of reactor vessels), and the hazards associated with chemicals in unlabeled pipes.

Office workers who encounter hazardous chemicals only in isolated instances are not covered by the rule. OSHA considers most office products (such as pens, pencils, adhesive tape) to be exempt under the provisions of the rule, either as articles or as consumer products. For example, OSHA has previously stated that intermittent or occasional use of a copying machine does not result in coverage under the rule. However, if an employee handles the chemicals to service the machine, or operates it for long periods of time, then the program would have to be applied.

A few blanket exemptions for particular substances can be found at 1910.1200(b)(6)). These exemptions include:

  • Hazardous waste
  • CERCLA hazardous substances (those listed at EPA 40 CFR 302.4) within a remedial or removal action
  • Tobacco or tobacco products
  • Wood or wood products under certain conditions
  • Articles (an item whose use is dependent on its shape or design and does not release more than trace amounts of chemical, as defined at 1910.1200(c))
  • Food or alcoholic beverages under certain conditions
  • Any drug under certain conditions
  • Cosmetics under certain conditions
  • Any consumer product used as intended for the same duration and frequency that a consumer would use it
  • Nuisance particulates
  • Ionizing and nonionizing radiation
  • Biological hazards

GHS Labels

Once the hazard classification is completed, the standard specifies what information is to be provided for each hazard class and category. Hazard communication labels require the following elements on shipped containers:

  • Product identifier: the unique name or number used for a hazardous chemical on a label or in the SDS. The product identifier used shall permit cross-references to be made among the list of hazardous chemicals required in the written hazard communication program, the label and the SDS.
  • Pictogram: a symbol on a white background within a red diamond. There are nine pictograms under the GHS. However, only eight pictograms are required under the HCS. Workplace labels may use a black border instead of red.
  • Signal word: a single word on the label used to indicate the relative level of severity of a hazard and alert the reader to a potential hazard. The GHS signal words used are "Danger" for the more severe hazards, while "Warning" is used for less severe hazards.
  • Hazard Statement: a statement assigned to a hazard class and category that describes the nature of the hazard(s) of a chemical, including, where appropriate, the degree of hazard. (Example: Highly flammable liquid and vapor.)
  • Precautionary Statement: a phrase that describes recommended measures to be taken to minimize or prevent adverse effects resulting from exposure to a hazardous chemical. This may also include proper storage or handling of a hazardous chemical, and first aid instructions.
  • Name, address, and telephone number of the chemical manufacturer, importer, or other responsible party.

Chemical manufacturers, importers, and distributors must label containers of hazardous chemicals with the identity of the chemical, appropriate hazard warnings, and the name and address of the manufacturer or other responsible party.

No, OSHA does not have a limit on the number of precautionary statements that appear on the label. OSHA requires all of the appropriate precautionary statements to appear on the label to warn users of the hazards of the chemical in question. However, OSHA does allow for some flexibility when identifying the appropriate precautionary statement(s) for labels, as explained below:

a) OSHA allows precautionary statements to be combined or consolidated to save label space. See Appendix C.2.4.6. An example provided in Appendix C.2.4.6 states: “Keep away from heat, sparks and open flame,” “Store in a well-ventilated place” and “Keep cool” can be combined to read “Keep away from heat, sparks and open flame and store in a cool, well-ventilated place.”

b) In addition, where a chemical is classified for a number of hazards, and the precautionary statements are similar, the most stringent must be included on the label (we expect this to apply mostly to preventive measures) and the less stringent may be omitted.

c) The chemical manufacturer, importer or responsible party may identify an order of precedence for displaying precautionary statements on the label in situations where phrases relate to a required response action. This may occur in cases where rapid action may be crucial. For example, if a chemical is carcinogenic and acutely toxic, rapid action may be crucial; therefore, the employer may decide to display first aid measures for the acute toxicity hazards before precautionary statements about effects that occur over a longer time, such as medical attention required for delayed health effects in cases of incidental exposure.

Finally, if the chemical manufacturer, importer, or responsible party can demonstrate that a precautionary statement is inappropriate for a specific chemical, it may omit the precautionary statement from the label.

Where hazardous substances are transferred from a labeled container into a portable container, used within a work shift, and under the control of the employee who performs the transfer, no labels are required on the portable container. However, if the chemical transferred to a portable container is not used within a work shift and under the control of the employee who performs the transfer, then labeling is required.

Yes. Employers may choose to label workplace containers either with the same label that would be on shipped containers for the chemical, or with label alternatives that meet the requirements for the standard. Alternative labeling systems such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 704 Hazard Rating and the Hazardous Material Information System (HMIS) are permitted for workplace containers; however, the information supplied must be consistent with the HCS. Moreover, since these alternative labels would, at a minimum, only provide the product identifier and "general" information regarding the hazards of the chemicals, the employer must also make "specific" information regarding the physical and health hazards of the chemical immediately available to employees through other means under the hazard communication program.

No. Although the Department of Transportation (DOT) Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) prohibits the display on a package of any marking or label that could be confused or conflict with a label required by the HMR, that prohibition does not apply to packages labeled in conformance with certain international standards, including the UN Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). The GHS labeling provisions, including as implemented by OSHA, require all hazard communication elements to be located on the label and these hazard communication elements must only appear as part of a complete GHS label. As such, the display of a marking or label not required by DOT's HMR, but conforming to OSHA's HCS and consistent with the GHS is not a violation of the HMR. This includes packages meeting the definition of a "bulk package" as defined by the HMR. In other words, an HCS compliant OSHA label and a DOT HMR label or marking may both appear on the same package.

Yes, employers are permitted to use color coding to identify chemicals in pipes. Pipes are not required to be labeled with HCS labels because they are not considered “containers” under the HCS. Employees must be informed of and trained on the hazards associated with chemicals in unlabeled pipes, and the measures employees can take to protect themselves from these hazards. See the Hazcom Training section for an explanation of training requirements.

All hazardous chemicals shipped within the United States must comply with the HCS requirements. OSHA has developed a practical accommodation to address situations where the manufacturer can show that it is not feasible to use pull-out labels, fold-back labels, or tags containing the full HCS required information for shipped small containers (i.e., the actual container holding the hazardous chemical). OSHA reviews labeling small packages on a case-by-case basis to determine whether a practical accommodation is warranted.

Safety Data Sheets (SDS)

SDS stands for Safety Data Sheet, formerly known as a Material Safety Data Sheet, or MSDS.

Employers must have a GHS-style, 16-section SDS for each chemical which is considered to be a health or physical hazard as those terms are defined in the standard, except for those products specifically exempted under the hazcom regulation at 1910.1200(b)(6).

OSHA defines "health hazard" as "a chemical which is classified as posing one of the following hazardous effects: acute toxicity (any route of exposure); skin corrosion or irritation; serious eye damage or eye irritation; respiratory or skin sensitization; germ cell mutagenicity; carcinogenicity; reproductive toxicity; specific target organ toxicity (single or repeated exposure); or aspiration hazard."

OSHA defines a "physical hazard" as "a chemical that is classified as posing one of the following hazardous effects: explosive; flammable (gases, aerosols, liquids, or solids); oxidizer (liquid, solid or gas); self-reactive; pyrophoric (liquid or solid); self-heating; organic peroxide; corrosive to metal; gas under pressure; or in contact with water emits flammable gas."

You are not required to have SDSs for household consumer products when the products are used in the workplace in the same manner that a consumer would use them, i.e., where the duration and frequency of use (and therefore exposure) is not greater than what the typical consumer would experience.

This exemption is based, however, not upon the chemical manufacturer's intended use of the product, but upon how it is used in the workplace. Employees who are required to work with hazardous chemicals in a manner that result in a duration and frequency of exposure greater than what a normal consumer would experience need to be trained on the hazards of that product.

Non-hazardous chemicals are not covered by HazCom; therefore, SDSs are not required for those chemicals. Since OSHA does not require nor encourage employers to maintain SDSs for non-hazardous chemicals, an employer is free to discard SDSs for non-hazardous chemicals.

SDSs must be in the language of the employees that work at your workplace. You are required to have them in English, but if most of your employees speak Spanish, then you must have the SDS in Spanish as well. The standard states it must be in the language that an employee can understand. If you have employees that speak other languages, then you must accommodate those employees with the SDSs in their language as well.

OSHA says in 1910.1200(g)(8) that it is permissible to provide access to SDSs from an electronic work station in the employee's work area provided the employee knows how to access the SDSs. OSHA further says in 19190.1200(g)(9) that where employees must travel between workplaces during a work shift, i.e., their work is carried out at more than one geographical location, the safety data sheets may be kept at the primary workplace facility. In this situation, the employer shall ensure that employees can immediately obtain the required information in an emergency. However, the SDSs can’t be locked up at any point in time by the employer.

HazCom Training

OSHA says you must train "employees" which are defined in 1910.1200 as "a worker who may be exposed to hazardous chemicals under normal operating conditions or in foreseeable emergencies. Workers such as office workers or bank tellers who encounter hazardous chemicals only in non-routine, isolated instances are not covered."

"Exposure" or "exposed" under the rule means that an employee is subjected to a hazardous chemical in the course of employment through any route of entry (inhalation, ingestion, skin contact, or absorption) and includes potential (e.g., accidental or possible) exposure.

Normal operating conditions are those which employees encounter in performing their job duties in their assigned work areas.

Workers who encounter hazardous chemicals only in non-routine, isolated instances are not covered. For instance, if a receptionist or sales person occasionally delivers a phone message to an area where chemicals are used, he or she would not be covered.

But if workers routinely bring production or sales paperwork to that area, or if they deliver or pick up sealed boxes of chemicals, they have to be trained. If you are not sure if certain employees are "routinely exposed," include them in the training. It is better to train too many people than to miss some people and risk an OSHA fine.

OSHA requires that employee HazCom training include at least the:

  • Methods and observations that may be used to detect the presence or release of a hazardous chemical in the work area (such as monitoring conducted by the employer, continuous monitoring devices, visual appearance or odor of hazardous chemicals when being released, etc.);
  • Physical, health, simple asphyxiation, combustible dust, and pyrophoric gas hazards, as well as hazards not otherwise classified, of the chemicals in the work area;
  • Measures employees can take to protect themselves from these hazards, including specific procedures the employer has implemented to protect employees from exposure to hazardous chemicals, such as appropriate work practices, emergency procedures, and personal protective equipment to be used; and
  • Details of the hazard communication program developed by the employer, including an explanation of the labels received on shipped containers and the workplace labeling system used by their employer; the safety data sheet, including the order of information and how employees can obtain and use the appropriate hazard information.

Training on label elements must include information on the type of information the employee would expect to see on hazard communication labels, including the:

  • Product identifier;
  • Signal word;
  • Pictogram;
  • Hazard statement(s);
  • Precautionary statement(s); and
  • Name, address and phone number of the chemical manufacturer, distributor, or importer.

Training must also include how an employee might use the labels in the workplace. For example:

  • Explain how information on the label can be used to ensure proper storage of hazardous chemicals.
  • Explain how the information on the label might be used to quickly locate information on first aid when needed by employees or emergency personnel.

A general understanding of how the elements work together on a label. For example:

  • Explain that where a chemical has multiple hazards, different pictograms are used to identify the various hazards. The employee should expect to see the appropriate pictogram for the corresponding hazard class.
  • Explain that when there are similar precautionary statements, the one providing the most protective information will be included on the label.

Training on the format of the SDS must include information on:

  • Standardized 16-section format, including the type of information found in the various sections.
  • How the information on the label is related to the SDS.

You must provide "effective" HazCom training to your employees at the time of their initial assignment and whenever a new physical or health hazard the employees have not previously been trained about is introduced into their work area. For example, if a new solvent is brought into the workplace, and it has hazards similar to existing chemicals for which training has already been conducted, then no new training is required. If the newly introduced solvent is a suspect carcinogen, and there has never been a carcinogenic hazard in the workplace before, then new training for carcinogenic hazards must be conducted for employees in those work areas where employees will be exposed.

In order to meet the requirements of the HazCom standard, the contractor and/or the temporary agency employer have shared responsibility to provide training to temporary employees. It should be spelled out in the contract between the temporary agency and the employer who would be expected to provide generic hazard training. Host employers would then be responsible for providing site-specific hazard training as required by the standard.

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