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OSHA’s Revised Hazard Communication Standard: How Employers Can Prepare

The beginning of a New Year and fiscal quarter can be a critical time for companies to realign goals and solidify their game plans for the future. For employers in certain industries, it’s also an important time to learn about regulatory changes, their potential impact, and ways to effectively ensure compliance. That need to ensure compliance will be a particular concern to the more than 5 million workplaces OSHA estimates to be impacted by its Hazard Communications Standards and forthcoming updates.

About the HCS Update and its Origins

Updates to OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard or the “Right to Know” law (29 CFR 1910.1200) – which concerns requirements chemical manufacturers, employers, and employers must meet to prevent illnesses and injuries caused by hazardous materials – have been brewing for years. Generally, they stem from the desire to create consistency in how hazardous materials are handled in an increasingly globalized world.

Following the adoption of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) by the United Nations in 2003, OSHA adopted a number of significant changes to its HCS standard as a means of ensuring a more globally consistent approach in terms of how chemical hazards are classified, labeled, and recorded by companies and their employees.

In 2012, OSHA implemented a plan to update HCS requirements and more closely align them with the GHS. Those changes fell primarily within three areas:

  • Classification – Updates to hazard classification included more specific criteria for physical and health-related hazards.
  • Labeling – Manufacturers, distributors, importers, and others who transport hazardous chemicals were required to ensure labels and information conformed to GHS standards.
  • Safety Data Sheets – The revision replaced Material Safety Sheets (MSDS) with SDS that include a specific 16-section format.

OSHA additionally created a phase-in timeline of requirements associated with the revised HCS, including deadlines for employers to train workers and for distributors, manufacturers, and importers to comply with all modified provisions. Though dates for compliance were set, the GHS proved to be a living document that would be continually updated – with the UN recently completing the seventh edition of revisions. Because OSHA’s previous requirements were based on the third edition of the GHS, OSHA must now implement additional updates to align its HCS policy with the latest standards.

The HCS Revision in 2019: What to Expect

A simple timeline for understanding OSHA’s HCS update begins with

  1. The adoption of the GHS in 2003, with subsequent revisions in the following years.
  2. OSHA’s final rule issued in 2012 to incorporate HCS changes under the 3rd Edition of the GHS.
  3. Since no updates were made despite continued revisions to the GHS, OSHA published its Update to the Hazard Communication Standard proposed rule stage item in October of 2018, and scheduled the NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) to be issued by March of 2019.

While changes to the HCS in regard to the 7th Edition of the GHS, and previous iterations made following OSHA’s first update based on the 3rd Edition, are not known as of yet, there are some potential modifications OSHA may adopt when regulating hazardous chemicals. These may include:

  • Revisions to health hazard class definitions
  • Updated criteria for classifying flammable gases
  • New precautionary statements
  • Additional information requirements in SDSs (Section 9)
  • Ne hazard categories for chemically unstable gases, desensitized explosives, and non-flammable aerosols
  • Revised summary tables for classification and labeling
  • Updated testing methods for oxidizing solids

What Employers Can Do Now

As U.S. employers prepare for changes, it’s important to remember that compliance with the latest HCS update in 2012 is still required. As such, employers should use this time to ensure they are in compliance with current standards, and that they are able to responsively and compliantly adapt when new rules are implemented by OSHA. Due diligence in this regard requires focus on a number of considerations, including:

  • Compliant chemical hazard classification and labeling practices
  • Proper use of 16-section Safety Data Sheets (SDS)
  • Current SDS library (workplace- and inventory-specific)
  • Written HCS compliance plans accessible to workers
  • Proper employee training (SDS format, labeling, hazard standards, and workplace-specific compliance plans)
  • Functional company structure (i.e. management software, systems and processes, and safety equipment)

You can find additional information about the HCS update on the TDI website and the OSHA website, or by working with our firm to formulate a compliance plan specific to your business’ needs.

Texas OSHA Attorneys: Preparing Employers, Ensuring Compliance

Ensuring compliance today, as well as the underlying infrastructure to create a safe and compliant workplace that’s easily adaptable, is crucial not only to facilitating a smooth transition when OSHA updates to the Hazard Communication Standard are introduced, but also to limiting exposure to OSHA violations, accidents and injuries, liability, and other repercussions harmful to employers.

If you have questions about OSHA’s revised Hazard Communication Standard, or any other matter of OSHA law compliance and citation defense, Hendershot, Cannon & Hisey, P.C. is here to help. Contact our firm to speak with a member of our team.