OSHA Updates Hazard Communication Standard, Effective July 19

Chemical hazard pictograms

On Monday, May 20, 2024, the Department of Labor released the final rule from its Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that will update the current Hazard Communication Standard. The updates take effect on July 19, 2024, but will phase in with various compliance deadlines starting at 18 months after the effective date.

What Is the Hazard Communication Standard?

OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), first published in 1983, is designed to ensure that both employers and workers know about and can recognize hazardous chemicals in the workplace and take appropriate measures to protect themselves. The standard requires, among other things, safety data sheets (SDS), labels, and employee training.

Why Was the Hazard Communication Standard Revised In 2024?

In 2003, the United Nations adopted the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). The GHS includes criteria for the classification of health, physical and environmental hazards, as well as specifying which information should be included on labels of hazardous chemicals as well as safety data sheets.

In 2012, OSHA aligned its Hazard Communication Standard with the GHS, which is updated with improvements and clarifications every two years. As a result, OSHA must also regularly update its own standard to remain in alignment with the GHS and to keep up with evolving technology.

This final rule published on Monday aligns primarily with revision 7 of the GHS adopted in 2017. Revision 7 included revised criteria for the categorization of flammable gases and addressed the labeling of small packages.

The hazard communication standard was also revised to:

  • Address feedback and suggestions from stakeholders to the 2012 update. Some of the major issues encountered by stakeholders include the labeling of small containers, the labeling of chemicals released for shipment, and the use of concentration ranges to protect trade secrets.
  • Align with other U.S. agencies (such as the Department of Transportation) and international trading partners.

What Major Changes Were Made To The Hazard Communication Standard?

This final rule does not change the fundamental structure of the HCS. Employers are still required to provide information to their employees about the hazardous chemicals to which they are exposed by means of a hazard communication program, labels, safety data sheets, and training.

What has changed? Modifications to the standard include:

  • Revised Criteria for Classification of Hazards. This final standard updated the criteria for the classification of certain chemical and physical hazards. Chemical manufacturers and importers must evaluate the chemicals produced in their workplaces or imported by them to determine the hazard classes, and, where appropriate, the category of each class that applies to the chemical being classified.
  • Revised Definitions. OSHA modernized and added several new definitions. Definitions for bulk shipment, combustible dust, gas, immediate outer package, liquid, physician or other licensed healthcare professional (PLHCP), released for shipment, and solid were added. The definitions for exposure or exposed, hazardous chemical, and physical hazard were updated. OSHA deleted the definition of pyrophoric gas.
  • New “Released for Shipment” Provisions. The new standard gives employers the option not to relabel chemicals released for shipment and awaiting future distribution should new hazards be identified. However, they would have to provide an updated label with the shipment. Per OSHA, this option alleviates “employer concerns regarding the practicability of breaking down pallets of sealed, shrink-wrapped packaged containers to replace labels when new hazards are identified.”
  • Small Container Labelling. The revised requirements address current feasibility issues related to the labeling of containers with a volume capacity of three milliliters or less. “When a label would interfere with the normal use of the container, and it is not feasible to use pullout labels, fold-back labels, or tags containing full label information, the rule will permit the container to bear only the product identifier, which could be etched onto the container itself.”
  • Concentration Ranges Allowed to Preserve Trade Secrets. In response to stakeholder concerns about reverse engineering of confidential information, the revised standard provides concentration ranges that may be used on safety data sheets to preserve trade secrets.
  • Revised Labels and Safety Data Sheets. The final rule amended label requirements for bulk shipments and to align with the Department of Transportation. Additionally, manufacturers and importers will need to evaluate and reclassify aerosols, desensitized explosives, and flammable gases in accordance with the new classification criteria and make corresponding revisions to SDSs and labels.

What Is The Impact on Manufacturers, Importers, and Downstream Users?

The final rule is estimated to impact more than 265,000 firms and establishments and more than 1.5 million employees.

All employers currently covered by the hazard communication standard will need to:

  • Become familiar with the updates;
  • Train health and safety specialists on the updates; and
  • Prepare and conduct new training for affected employees.

Manufacturers and importers will additionally need to:

  • Reclassify aerosols, desensitized explosives, and flammable gases in accordance with the new classification criteria; and
  • Make corresponding revisions to SDSs and labels.

Downstream users, distributors, and wholesalers can continue to rely on SDSs and labels provided by manufacturers to fulfill their obligations under the OSHA standard.

Compliance Deadlines for OSHA’s Revised Hazard Communication Standard

OSHA extended compliance deadlines based on feedback received during the rule-making process.

  • The revisions to the standard are final 60 days from publication in the Federal Register (effective date is July 19, 2024)
  • The final rule requires that chemical manufacturers, importers, distributors, and employers evaluating substances be in compliance with all modified provisions of the HCS no later than eighteen months after the effective date of the final rule (January 19, 2026)
  • Chemical manufacturers, importers, distributors, and employers evaluating mixtures must be in compliance with all modified provisions of the HCS no later than thirty-six months after the effective date of the final rule (July 19, 2027)
  • All employers, as necessary, must update any alternative workplace labeling used, update the hazard communication program, and provide any additional employee training for newly identified, covered hazards no later than twenty-four months after the effective date of the final rule for substances (July 20, 2026) and forty-two months after the effective date for mixtures (January 19, 2028).

Until these dates, manufacturers, importers, employers, and downstream users can comply with either the old or new standard – or both – during the transition period.

If you have questions, reach out to the legal team at Hendershot Cowart P.C. by calling (713) 909-7323 today.

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