New communication rule intended to reduce injury, deathFor almost 30 years, many employees have had the “right to know” about the chemical hazards in their workplace. Now they have the “right to understand,” according to OSHA head Dr. David Michaels, who just announced the release of the final Hazard Communication rule during a March 20 teleconference.
By: By Tricia S. Hodkiewicz/J. J. Keller & Associates , Superior Telegram
For almost 30 years, many employees have had the “right to know” about the chemical hazards in their workplace. Now they have the “right to understand,” according to OSHA head Dr. David Michaels, who just announced the release of the final Hazard Communication rule during a March 20 teleconference.
The rule calls for chemical manufacturers to provide standardized information, and in some cases pictograms, on all hazardous chemical labels and safety data sheets (SDSs) used by employees on the job. This consistent approach, the OSHA official explains, will make those materials easier to understand, especially in an emergency, and prevent worker injuries, illness and fatalities. Training employees on labeling and SDS systems should also be more straightforward for employers. According to Michaels, the old rule gave manufacturers so much flexibility in drafting labels and data sheets, it often resulted in inconsistent, inaccurate, and difficult-to-read materials for employees and employers.
The new system, on the other hand, incorporates much of the criteria from the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (or GHS). Michaels called the new rule a win-win for not only employers and employees but also chemical manufacturers competing in a global chemical market. This revised chemical hazard communication system should help reduce trade barriers by aligning the U.S. with Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and other nations.
Major changes to the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), found at 29 CFR 1910.1200, cover:
Chemical hazard classification: Revised criteria for classifying physical and health hazards of chemicals, as well as mixtures;
Chemical labels: Revised labeling provisions, including the use of harmonized signal words (e.g., danger), pictograms (e.g., skull and crossbones), hazard statements (e.g., fatal if swallowed), and precautionary statements;
Chemical safety data sheets: Established a standardized 16-section SDS format with a consistent sequence of information for quicker use in a chemical emergency or during day-to-day work activities;
Information and training: Employers must train employees in the new label elements and SDS format to help them recognize and understand the chemical hazards they face; and
Definitions: Several new terms were added to or revised in the new rule, including terms like classification, hazard class, hazardous chemical, label, pictogram, and signal word, among others.
It should be noted that the OSHA rule modified provisions of not just the HCS but also other standards involving flammable and combustible liquids, chemical processes, and specific substances. These regulatory changes ensure consistency with the new HCS requirements.
During the teleconference, Dr. David Michaels stated that the rule fit well with President Obama’s efforts to have federal government agencies streamline existing regulations. The president’s executive orders only gave OSHA a greater sense of urgency to complete the final rule. OSHA has determined that the modifications will significantly reduce costs and burdens while also improving the quality and consistency of information provided to employers and employees regarding chemical hazards and associated protective measures.
According to agency estimates, the rule will prevent more than 500 injuries and illnesses and save 43 lives annually. Moreover, each year U.S. businesses should see $475 million in productivity savings, plus $32 million in cost savings related to updating chemical labels and SDSs. Overall, the rule is said to cost $201 million but provide savings and benefits worth $757 million.
Some at the teleconference raised concerns over the rulemaking and posed questions on unclassified hazards, combustible dust, and in-house labeling systems. Michaels remarked that the rule establishes a new hazard category, called “hazards not otherwise classified” (HNOC), for hazards that do not match any of the other hazard categories in the HCS. However, he further added that, without defining the term, combustible dust hazards have been given their own hazard class, “combustible dust,” rather than being thrown into the HNOC classification. Combustible dusts can be explosive when suspended in air in the right concentrations, and these dusts have led to several fatal industrial incidents in recent years.
In addition, the OSHA head assured attendees that the new rule offers employers the flexibility to use an in-house chemical labeling system in their workplace. In other words, alternative labeling systems, such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA®) 704 Hazard Rating and the Hazardous Materials Information System® (HMIS® III), are still permitted for workplace containers; however, the information on these labels must be consistent with the revised HCS, e.g., no conflicting hazard warnings or pictograms.
While a pre-publication version of the final rule has been made available, it is anticipated to be officially published in the Federal Register on March 26. The rule will become effective 60 days after publication, but OSHA has provided the following extended compliance dates to meet the new requirements:
Dec. 1, 2013: Employers must have trained employees on the new label elements and SDS format.
June 1, 2015: Chemical manufacturers, importers, distributors, and employers must comply with all modified provisions of the final rule. The only exception is for the Dec. 1, 2015, distributor compliance date below.
Dec. 1, 2015: Chemical distributors must not ship containers labeled by the chemical manufacturer or importer unless it has a GHS label.
June 1, 2016: Employers must update alternative workplace labeling and their written hazard communication program as necessary and provide additional employee training for newly identified physical or health hazards.
During the phase-in period, employers would be required to be in compliance with either the existing HCS or the revised HCS, or both. OSHA has said it recognizes that hazard communication programs will go through a period of time where labels and SDSs under both standards will be present in the workplace. This will be considered acceptable, and employers are not required to maintain two sets of labels and SDSs for compliance purposes, according to an agency statement.
To read the Hazard Communication final rule, visit www.jjkeller.com/wsc.
Tricia S. Hodkiewicz specializes in workplace safety and environmental compliance issues as an Editor for J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.®, an OSHA, EPA, DOT, and HR regulatory information service provider based in Neenah, Wisconsin. For more information, visit www.jjkeller.com.