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OSHA Releases Final HCS Rule

June 14, 2012
Chemical manufacturers and importers have until 2016 to comply.

In March, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued its revised final Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), aligning it with the United Nations Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). Here are some key aspects of the final rule, which will be fully implemented by 2016.

The revised HCS will classify chemicals according to their health and physical hazards, and establish consistent labels and safety data sheets for all chemicals made in the U.S. and imported from abroad. During the transition period to the effective completion dates, impacted entities may comply with the final standard, the current standard, or both. 

The current HCS requires chemical manufacturers and importers to evaluate the chemicals they produce or import to determine if they are hazardous. The HCS provides definitions of health and physical hazards to use as criteria for determining hazards. Manufacturers and importers must convey information about hazards and protective measures to downstream customers and those firms’ employees through labels on containers and through material safety data sheets (called safety data sheets (SDS) under the final rule). All employers with hazardous chemicals in their workplaces must have a hazard communication program, including container labels, SDSs and employee training. Generally, under the final rule, these obligations remain, but the mechanism of hazard communication has been modified.

Changes to the Current HCS
In its fact sheet, available at www.osha.gov/dsg/hazcom/HCSFactsheet.html, OSHA lists the following major changes to the HCS:

Hazard classification: Chemical manufacturers and importers are required to determine the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import. Hazard classification under the updated HCS provides criteria to address health and physical hazards, and classification of chemical mixtures;

Labels: Chemical manufacturers and importers must provide a label that includes a signal word (such as “Danger” or “Warning”), pictogram, hazard statement, and precautionary statement for each hazard class and category;

SDSs: The new format requires 16 specific sections, ensuring consistency in presentation of important protection information; and

Information and training:  To facilitate understanding of the new system, workers must get training by December 1, 2013, on the new label elements and SDS format, in addition to current training requirements.

Changes to the Proposed Rule
OSHA revised its proposed rule in response to comments submitted and listed the following major changes:

• Maintaining the disclosure of threshold limit values (TLV) established by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) and carcinogen status from nationally and internationally recognized lists of carcinogens on the SDSs;
• Clarification that the borders of pictograms must be red on the label;
• Flexibility regarding the required precautionary and hazard statements to allow label preparers to consolidate and/or eliminate inappropriate or redundant statements; and
• Longer deadlines for full implementation of the standard.

What Needs to Happen and When
Chemical users must continue to update SDSs when new ones become available, provide training on the new label elements, and update hazard communication programs if new hazards are identified. Chemical producers must review hazard information for all chemicals produced or imported, classify chemicals according to the new classification criteria, and update labels and SDSs. The table below lists the deadlines for full implementation of the revised HCS.

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LYNN BERGESON is Chemical Processing's Regulatory Editor. You can e-mail her at [email protected].

Lynn is managing director of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C., a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that concentrates on chemical industry issues. The views expressed herein are solely those of the author.

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