OSHA Issues Proposed Rule to Adopt the Globally Harmonized Hazard Communication System

Calling it the “first step in an aggressive regulatory agenda” for the Obama administration, acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jordan Barab announced a proposed rule to align OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (hazcom standard) with provisions of the United Nations Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). The rule was published in the Sept. 30 Federal Register.

“The proposal to align the hazard communication standard with the GHS will improve the consistency and effectiveness of hazard communications and reduce chemical-related injuries, illnesses and fatalities,” said Barab. “Following the GHS approach will increase workplace safety, facilitate international trade in chemicals and generate cost savings from production efficiencies for firms that manufacture and use hazardous chemicals.”

Barab told EHS Today that the phase-in period for the proposed rule will be 3 years after the final rule is published, with phase-in for the implementation of training and education programs expected within 2 years of the final rule being published. Until the implementation date, employers will be expected to comply with either OSHA’s existing hazcom standard or the proposed rule.

Although no date has been established for the publication of the final rule, Jordan said, “We think we have a pretty good proposal, so we’re hoping to move it along with all due speed … Transition will not occur until we issue the standard and it becomes effective.”

GHS, a worldwide system for standardizing and harmonizing the classification and labeling of chemicals, was developed by the United Nations. The system is designed to:

  • Define health, physical and environmental hazards of chemicals.
  • Create classification processes that use available data on chemicals for comparison with the defined hazard criteria.
  • Communicate hazard information, as well as protective measures, on labels and material safety data sheets (MSDSs).

OSHA’s current hazcom standard requires chemical manufacturers and importers to evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import and provide information to subsequent users. The current standard requires all employers to have a hazard communication program for workers exposed to hazardous chemicals. The program includes materials such as container labels, safety data sheets and employee training.

The proposed modifications to the hazcom standard include:

  • Revised criteria for classification of chemical hazards;
  • Revised labeling provisions that include requirements for use of standardized signal words, pictograms, hazard statements and precautionary statements;
  • A specified format for safety data sheets;
  • Related revisions to definitions of terms used in the standard, requirements for employee training on labels and safety data sheets.

OSHA also is proposing to modify provisions of a number of other standards, including standards for flammable and combustible liquids, process safety management and most substance-specific health standards, to ensure consistency with the modified hazcom standard requirements.

A number of countries, including the United States, international organizations and stakeholders participated in developing the GHS to address inconsistencies in hazard classification and communications. The GHS was developed to provide a single, harmonized system to classify chemicals, labels and safety data sheets with the primary benefit of increasing the quality and consistency of information provided to workers, employers and chemical users. Under the GHS, chemical labels include signal words, pictograms and hazard and precautionary statements. Additionally, information on safety data sheets would be presented in a designated order.

Currently, the European Union, Japan, China, Canada and other countries have adopted GHS. The United States has been slower to act, in part, said an OSHA spokesperson in 2007, because the United States already had a hazcom standard in place. “It’s difficult to go back and retool what’s already there,” the OSHA spokesperson said at the time. “One of the benefits of GHS for countries that don’t have the resources to go through that process [of creating a system to manage hazardous chemicals] is that it gives them a system they can adopt.”

Although many stakeholders are withholding comment until they’ve had a chance to read the proposal, some have started to weigh in.

“ORC is committed to working with OSHA and other stakeholders to move this rulemaking forward,” commented ORC Senior Vice President Frank White. “We believe aligning OSHA rules with the GHS will help companies and protect workers, so we are hopeful this time the process will avoid the paralyzing polarization that has too often characterized previous OSHA rulemakings.”

OSHA will have a 90-day comment period on the proposed rulemaking. Comments can be submitted electronically at http:// www.regulations.gov, by fax to the OSHA Docket Office at 202-693-1648 or by mail (three copies) to the OSHA Docket Office, Docket No. OSHA-H022K-2006-0062, U.S. Department of Labor, Room N-2625, 200 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20210. All submissions must include the agency name and the docket number for this rulemaking (Docket No. OSHA-H022K-2006-0062). All comments, including any personal information provided, are placed in the public docket without change and may be made available online at http://www.regulations.gov. Therefore, be cautious about submitting personal information such as social security numbers and birthdates. All comments must be submitted by Dec. 29.

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