What You Need to Know About OSHA’s Revised HazCom Standard

By Roy Maurer May 29, 2015

An important deadline is imminent: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) revised hazard communication standard goes into effect for all employers June 1, 2015.

The revised rule requires employers to provide hazardous chemical information to their employees using new safety data sheets and labels that are aligned with the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals.

On March 26, 2012, OSHA issued a final rule modifying its hazard communication standard to conform to the global standard. The deadline to train employees on the new label and safety data sheets was Dec. 1, 2013. By June 1, all manufacturers, importers and employers must comply with new label requirements and safety data sheets. No new chemicals may be produced or enter the country without proper labels after this point, although distributors were granted an extra six months to deplete existing inventory until Dec. 1, 2015.

“Hazard communication is always important, but it’s particularly important now because we are on the verge of the most significant implementation deadline of the rollout of the new standard,” said Eric Conn, chair of the OSHA Workplace Safety Practice Group at Conn Maciel Carey, based in Washington, D.C. This is the most significant OSHA rulemaking development made during the Obama administration, he added.

The 2012 Revisions

Employer’s responsibilities under OSHA’s hazard communication standard are essentially the same as under the previous iterations. The big difference is that the standard shifted from being performance based to being a highly detailed specification based-standard, said Kate McMahon, a partner at Conn Maciel Carey. “Specifications relate to how you determine what a hazard is and whether a chemical poses a hazard, but it’s essentially what you did under old hazcom when you determined what a hazard was and what the precautionary measures were that needed to be taken to protect employees,” she said. The other major changes have to do with the formatting and information to be included on newly designed chemical hazard labels and safety data sheets (which replace the previously used material safety data sheets.)

The new mandatory appendices are the heart of the new standard, McMahon said. She pointed out appendices A and B specifically, which explain and direct how manufacturers and importers are to conduct hazard classifications and categorization, which then get reflected in labels and safety data sheets. Hazard classification identifies the nature of the hazard, for example, whether it’s carcinogenic or flammable and hazard categorization captures the degree of severity that is posed by that chemical, McMahon said. The appendices will become the Bible for manufacturers required to classify and categorize, she said.

What Are the New Labeling Requirements?

OSHA expects employers to train their workers on understanding the new label elements— all labels will be required to have pictograms, a signal word, hazard and precautionary statements, the product identifier, and supplier identification—as seen here.

The new labeling requirements describe the uniform way to convey the hazards and controls associated with every chemical product, said Rick Johnson, vice president of product development for CLMI Safety Training. “For the user of these products, the advantage is that the language and the pictograms will be more uniform and easier to understand. More information will be on the label and this makes it easier to work with the product safely.”

The six elements in more detail:

The product identifier is, for example, the chemical name, code number or batch number. This is given by the manufacturer, importer or distributor. It is important to note that the product identifier must be the same on both the label and in Section 1 of the safety data sheet.

Supplier identification is the contact information for the supplier.

Signal word. One of two signal words will be used to indicate the relative level of hazard severity: danger or warning. Within a specific hazard class, danger is used for the more severe hazards and warning is used for the less severe hazards, said Marie Athey, president of OSHAtrainer.org. Only one word will be used on the label, regardless of how many hazards the chemical may have, and it must always be the highest-level severity word, she said.

Pictograms. There are nine OSHA designated pictograms, of which eight are mandatory. They include:

  • Health hazard.
  • Flame.
  • Exclamation mark, representing skin and eye irritant.
  • Gas cylinder, representing gases under pressure.
  • Corrosion.
  • Exploding bomb.
  • Flame over circle, representing oxidizers.
  • Skull and crossbones, representing acute toxicity, possibly fatal.
  • Environment, representing aquatic toxicity (nonmandatory).

Hazard statement, describing the nature of the hazard of a chemical, including the degree of hazard, if appropriate. An example would be: Causes damage to kidneys through prolonged exposure to skin.

Precautionary statement, describing recommended measures that should be taken to minimize or prevent adverse effects resulting from exposure to a hazardous chemical or improper storage and handling.

Labels must be legible, in English, and prominently displayed. Other languages may be displayed in addition to English. Employers are responsible for maintaining labels and must relabel items if the labels are removed or defaced. They have the option to create their own workplace labels as well, using the information from the manufacturer.

Say Goodbye to MSDSs

Another of the standard’s significant changes is the replacement of the material safety data sheet (MSDS) reporting format with standardized safety data sheets (SDSs). These will cover everything from potential hazards of the chemicals, first aid measures and how to control exposure, transport and dispose of the material—as seen here.

“One very big way they are not changing is their fundamental nature. Whether they’re called MSDSs or SDSs, their purpose remains the same, which is to provide critical information about the proper and safe handling, storage, use and disposal of chemicals to everyone in the lifecycle of said chemicals,” remarked Glenn D. Trout, the president of MSDSonline, a provider of on-demand compliance solutions for tracking and managing hazardous chemicals and GHS compliance.

OSHA adopted a format with 16 sections and provides a description of the data used to identify hazards. “The first 8 sections is for information most needed in an emergency or to prevent one, while sections 9-16 contain more technical and perhaps less urgent information,” Trout said.

The 16 sections are:

  • Identification of supplier.
  • Hazard(s) identification.
  • Composition/information on ingredients. This includes mixtures and trade secret claims.
  • First-aid measures. “Probably the first thing I’d train my employees on,” Athey said.
  • Fire-fighting measures.
  • Accidental release measures. “This is something that will happen in the workplace, so be prepared,” she said.
  • Handling and storage. This section includes incompatibilities, such as ammonia and bleach, which creates a toxic gas when mixed together.
  • Exposure controls/personal protection. Permissible exposure limits will be listed here.
  • Physical and chemical properties.
  • Stability and reactivity. Another important section when it comes to storage, said Athey. Toxicological information.
  • Ecological information.
  • Disposal considerations.
  • Transport information.
  • Regulatory information.
  • Other information, including date of preparation or last revision.

“You will have to train your employees to understand that the information on the label is related to the SDS. For example, the precautionary statements should be the same on both,” said Athey.

OSHA estimates that approximately 1.4 million MSDSs in the U.S. need to be updated, Trout said. “Make sure you have an up-to-date MSDS library, because as the new documents come in, you will need to compare them to the old ones to see if there are any new hazards that have been identified. Also, employers should expect their entire safety data sheet library to turn over in the next few years. That could mean a lot of paperwork updating dozens, hundreds or even thousands of safety data sheets across facility locations,” he said.

Finally, if manufacturers receive new information that results in a change in classification or supplemental information that should be included on the SDS, they will have three months from the date of receipt of the information to revise the SDS, McMahon said.

Easy Access

Employers must still ensure that their employees have easy access to safety data sheets for the hazardous chemicals in their workplace. “The burden falls upon the manufacturer to develop the SDSs, but as a downstream employer with chemicals in the workplace, the obligation to keep the SDSs that comply with the new requirements in your facility remains,” said Conn.

Compliance requires that employers make sure employees have immediate access to the sheets, and that a back-up is available. They can be stored as hard copies or electronically.

Limited Deadline Extension

Chemical manufacturers and importers that have documented their efforts to communicate with upstream suppliers about meeting upcoming safety data sheet and chemical labeling requirements but have not yet received accurate information will not be cited for a failure to comply, OSHA clarified in a February 2015 memo.

According to the memo, OSHA “will exercise its enforcement discretion,” allowing a “reasonable time period” for downstream users to come into compliance with the new requirement. OSHA will evaluate whether the downstream user has exercised “reasonable diligence” and “good faith efforts.”

Good-faith efforts include documented oral and written communication with upstream suppliers, documented efforts to find hazard information from alternative sources such as chemical registries, and a clear timeline for when compliance is expected.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

Quick Links:

SHRM OnlineSafety & Security page

Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Post a Job

Apply by October 19

Get recognized as an HR expert. Earn your SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP certification, and set yourself apart.

Apply Now


Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect