The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is proposing through the notice of proposed rule making (NPRM) to modify the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) to align to the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System (GHS). The goal of the modification is to address issues that arose during the implementation of the 2012 update to the HCS, and provide better alignment with other U.S agencies and major trading partners such as Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand without lowering the protections provided by the standard.

In 2012, OSHA officially updated its Hazard Communication Standard to align with the third version of the GHS. With the constant update of the GHS every two years, the proposed rulemaking would amend the HCS to align with Revision 7 of the GHS published in 2017. Even though Revision 8 of the GHS was issued in July 2019, the agency decided to base most of the GHS alignment with Revision 7 because work to update the standard began prior to the release of Revision 8 and the U.S.’s trading partners are all preparing to align with Revision 7 which included revised criteria for categorization of flammable gases, definition clarification of some health hazards, guidance for the coverage of section 14 of the SDS, and the labeling requirements of small packages. 

The proposed changes would reduce costs while also improving the quality and consistency of information provided to employers and employees regarding chemical hazards, health and physical hazards, and associated protective measures. According to OSHA, improving the information on labels and Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) will increase worker protections, and reduce the incidence of chemical related occupational illnesses and injuries. OSHA’s proposed modifications also include codifying enforcement policies in OSHA’s compliance directive, new labeling requirements for small containers, clarifying specific requirements related to the transport of hazardous chemicals, adopting technical requirements related to preparation of Safety Data Sheets (SDS), and revisions to definitions of terms used in the standard.

OSHA first established the need for the HCS in the 1983 standard in order to provide a standardized method of workplace hazard communications associated with exposure to hazardous chemicals. The HCS requires chemical manufacturers or importers to classify the hazards of chemicals they produce or import. The standard requires all employers to provide information to their employees about the hazardous chemicals to which they are exposed, by means of hazard communication program, labels and other forms of warning, safety data sheets (SDSs), information and training.

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) has been implemented around the world and is used to define and classify the hazards of chemical products, and communicates health and safety information on labels and safety data sheets. The goal of the GHS is to set the same set of rules for classifying hazards, and the same format and content for labels and safety data sheets (SDS) will be adopted and used around the world.

Overall, since OSHA’s adoption of revision 3, the GHS has been updated five times. Past updates to the GHS included changes in Revision 4 which involved adjustments to hazard categories for chemically unstable gases and non-flammable aerosols. Changes in Revision 5 included a new test method for oxidizing solids, further clarify criteria for hazard classes on Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), a new codification system for hazard pictograms, and revised precautionary statements. Changes in Revision 6 included a new hazard class for desensitized explosives and a new hazard category for pyrophoric gases, additional information to be included in section 9 of the SDS, and miscellaneous provisions intended to clarify the criteria for some hazard classes.

According to OSHA, “The agency believes that the changes proposed in this NPRM will further improve the comprehensibility and utility of the standard and allow the HCS to keep up with advances in relevant science and technology, thereby protecting worker health and safety”. Cooperating with international trading partners and other federal agencies through these revisions will ease compliance for employers in different markets, and strengthen worker protections by providing harmonized hazard communication standards across trade borders. The proposed changes related to labeling of small containers and relabeling requirements for chemicals that have been released for shipment, were developed as a result of direct feedback and comments from stakeholders. Adopting a uniform standard for the labeling of small containers based on stakeholder experience will improve worker protections to the hazards brought by the chemicals contained in such containers.

Individuals interested in submitting comments related to the NPRM, identified by Docket No: OSHA-2019-0001, can do so electronically until April 19, 2021 on the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov.