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New OSHA Hazard Communication Standards

There are changes to OSHA regulations that are being rolled out over the next couple years and will affect an estimated 5 million workplaces and 43 million employees. The first of these regulations goes into effect December 1, 2013. Is your company ready?

Why is OSHA Changing the Hazard Communication Standards?

The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) is OSHA's way of ensuring safety to employees who potentially come in contact with hazardous chemicals. Those who manufacture or import chemicals must assess their hazards, as well as create labels and safety data sheets (SDS) that inform their customers of the potential dangers. Workplaces that contain hazardous chemicals must have clearly displayed labels and supply the SDS to employees who may come in contact with them. Employees must also be trained on proper handling of hazardous chemicals.

OSHA has chosen to align their Hazard Communication Standard with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. The goal is to improve the "quality and consistency of hazard information, making it safer for workers to do their jobs and easier for employers to stay competitive," says U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.

The new Globally Harmonized System (GHS) is a standardized system of identifying hazardous chemicals and it is used internationally. These standards have been created over several years in collaboration between hazard communication experts from across the globe, including representatives from OSHA.

What is Different About the new Hazard Communication Standard?

Chemical importers and manufacturers have always been required to provide labels and SDS, but the format in which it was presented was not standardized. Now, through this global standardization effort, the three areas that will be standardized are: hazard labels, safety data sheets, and hazard classification.

Labels: All labels will be required to contain four elements: a pictogram that conveys the specific hazard a chemical may present, signal words that specify the level of severity of hazard, a hazard statement that assigns a class and category to the chemical, and a precautionary statement that advises how the chemical should be handled to reduce the risk of injury.

Safety Data Sheets: SDS sheets will all need to follow the standardized 16-section format.

Hazard Classification: The definition of what hazards a chemical can cause, as well as what class and category a chemical should be in, is now standardized.

The goal is to use standardization to make labels and SDS easier to understand, which in turn makes the workplace safer.

When Does OSHA's Revised HCS Take Effect?

The good news is OSHA is phasing in the revised HCS. The first step is for employers to make sure their employees are trained on the GHS' new label and safety data sheet formats by December 1, 2013.

Compliance by employers with the GHS standards is not required until June 1, 2015 and effective December 1, 2015, no distributor can ship chemical containers unless it has a GHS compliant label.

Why Must Employees be Trained on OSHA's Revised HCS So Far Advance of the Compliance Date?

Many companies, both in the U.S. and abroad, have already chosen to comply with these standards and are creating labels and safety data sheets accordingly. It is very likely employees will see these new GHS compliant labels and data sheets well before June 1, 2015, so it is important that they are already trained.

All online OSHA Training Courses by USFOSHA have already included the new Hazard Communication Standards as part of our courses since August 16th, 2013. If you earned your OSHA card from us prior to this or from somewhere else, and only need to be trained on the new HCS, we are now offering a One Hour OSHA Hazard Communication Course that will train you on the new standards. The American Safety Council is pleased to offer this new material in a convenient format, as we work with OSHA to keep American workplaces safe.