Hazard Communication Standard Revised for Global Harmonization

OSHA has published a final rule revising the 1983 Hazard Communication Standard to align with the United Nations' Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). Harmonizing the standard with this system will require all contractors to update HazCom training and paperwork.

The HazCom standard requires chemical manufacturers and importers to evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import and prepare labels and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to convey the hazard information to their downstream customers. It also requires all employers with hazardous chemicals in their workplaces to have labels and safety data sheets for their exposed workers and to train them to handle the chemicals appropriately.

The revised HCS, which OSHA is calling "HazCom 2012," will classify chemicals according to their health and physical hazards and establish consistent labels and safety data sheets for all chemicals made in the United States and imported from abroad. The change is expected to affect every U.S. workplace with exposure to hazardous chemicals, ultimately covering over 5 million facilities and more than 40 million workers.

It will be fully implemented in 2016. However, the first compliance date employers should be aware of is December 1, 2013 — the date by which employees must be trained on the new label and MSDS formats.

The final rule is scheduled for publication in The Federal Register on March 26, 2012. During the transition period to the effective completion dates noted in the standard, chemical manufacturers, importers, distributors and employers may comply with either 29 Code of Federal Regulations 1910.1200 (the final standard), the current standard or both.

OSHA Explains Rationale Behind Change

"Exposure to hazardous chemicals is one of the most serious dangers facing American workers today," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. "Revising OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard will improve the quality, consistency and clarity of hazard information that workers receive, making it safer for workers to do their jobs and easier for employers to stay competitive in the global marketplace."

OSHA says the new standard, once implemented, will prevent an estimated 43 deaths and result in an estimated $475.2 million in enhanced productivity for U.S. businesses each year. It is also expected to prevent an estimated 585 injuries and illnesses annually. "It will reduce trade barriers and result in estimated annualized benefits in productivity improvements for American businesses that regularly handle, store and use hazardous chemicals,” according to OSHA's announcement of the HCS revision.

When the original rule took effect in 1983, it was called a "right to know" standard. OSHA is describing the revision as a "right to understand" standard because "it will benefit workers by reducing confusion about chemical hazards in the workplace, facilitating safety training and improving understanding of hazards, especially for low literacy workers."

Where to Get More Information and Training

It has taken a long time for employers to get up to speed on OSHA's original Hazard Communication Standard and many are still struggling. HazCom has become an easy target for citations and is now the third most often cited OSHA standard (right behind rules for scaffolding and fall protection). So, it's no wonder there's great concern about OSHA's adoption of the Globally Harmonized System.

Although the employee-training requirements don't kick in until December 1, 2013, we urge NECA contractors to start familiarizing themselves with the revision now. One of the first places to start is OSHA's website.

Go to (or simply click on this URL) www.osha.gov/dsg/hazcom/index.html to review relevant information for workers, employers and downstream users of hazardous chemicals. OSHA's Hazard Communication Safety and Health page includes links to the revised Hazard Communication Standard and guidance materials such as "Q and A's," fact sheets, and Quick Cards.

We have also been made aware of organizations that have already scheduled webinars to educate employers and workers on HazCom 2012. For example, Keller and Heckman's Workplace Safety and Litigation Team offers a FREE presentation that will be accessible on the Internet on Tuesday, March 27 (advanced registration required). It will review the overhaul of the OSHA HCS effected by the GHS amendment and explain how those changes may impact your organization's operations and potential tort liability. Click here for information and to register for the March 27, 2012, HCS/GHS webinar.

MSDSonline, a popular resource used by many NECA members, offers a FREE 45-minute webinar called "GHS Adoption by OSHA — What You Need to Do Now!" Presentations are currently scheduled for Wednesday, March 28; Wednesday, April 4; Wednesday, April 18; and Wednesday, May 2 (all begining at 9:00 a.m. Pacific/12:00 p.m. Eastern), and we expect additional repeat presentations will be added to the schedule. Registration in advance is required. Learn more about/register for MSDSonline's "GHS Adoption" webinar.

NECA is also working hard to help ease our members’ compliance with this major standard revision. We'll keep you updated!

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