OSHA Seeks to Update Hazard Communication Standards

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February 24, 2021


OSHA is proposing changes to its 2012 Hazard Communication Standard



OSHA Seeks to Update Hazard Communication Standard

In 1983, OSHA first promulgated a “Hazard Communication Standard” (HCS), also known as the workers’ “right to know” standard, requiring chemical manufacturers and importers to assess the hazards of chemicals they produce or import, and employers to provide information to their employees regarding hazardous chemicals in order to reduce chemical-related occupational illnesses and injuries. The means of communication includes labels, safety data sheets (SDSs), training, and access to written records, all as part of a hazard communication program. In 2003, the first Globally Harmonized System of Classification of Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) was published to address classification of chemicals, labeling, and SDSs. Since then, the GHS has been updated, revised and improved every two years. In 2012, OSHA modified its HCS to conform to the GHS (Revision 3) in order to harmonize the US approach with international requirements. OSHA is now proposing changes to its 2012 HCS to better align with Revision 7 of the GHS. These changes are intended to “reduce costs and burdens while also improving the quality and consistency of information provided to employers and employees regarding chemical hazards and associated protective measures.” The US’s major international trading partners – Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and countries in Europe – are also preparing updated alignments with GHS Revision 7.

Key takeaways:

  1. Hazard category changes: OSHA is proposing the addition of a new hazard class (i.e., desensitized explosives, which are chemicals treated in such a way to stabilize the chemical or reduce or suppress its explosive properties) and several new hazard categories (i.e., chemically unstable gases and pyrophoric gases in the Flammable Gases category and nonflammable aerosols in the Aerosols class). A new test method for oxidizing solids and a revised criteria within flammable gases Category 1 are also proposed.
  2. Reclassification of existing chemical hazards: OSHA does not expect or require companies to reclassify chemicals that were classified according to the 2012 HCS standard.
  3. Trade secrets: OSHA is proposing to allow companies to keep a chemical’s concentration range as confidential business information, if necessary. Note this is not currently allowed under HCS (2012). The draft language proposes the use of set concentration ranges (i.e., 0.1-1%, 30-60%), which are the same as those used by Health Canada.
  4. Revised provisions for updating labels: In the event that labels need to be updated, products released for shipment, but not yet distributed, will not need re-labeling. However, updated labels must be provided.
  5. Labeling for Small Containers: OSHA is adding language to address issues, such as insufficient space on labels, readability, and challenges with fold-out labels, etc. Specifically,
  • Labels for containers ≤ 100 mL must include the “product identifier, pictogram(s), signal word, chemical manufacturer’s name and phone number, and a statement that the full label information for the hazardous chemical is provided on the immediate outer package.”
  • Labels for containers ≤ 3 mL only need to contain the product identifier, if companies “can demonstrate that any label would interfere with the normal use of the container.” The product identifier should allow users to link the small container with the immediate outer package’s full label information.
  • OSHA is also seeking comments on the use of electronic labeling for chemical packaging (e.g., QR code or RFID technology).

In summary, the proposed updates would allow manufacturers, importers, and distributors to improve harmonization of US and international SDSs and labels, and increase worker protections. Furthermore, OSHA has preliminarily determined that the proposed changes do not constitute an economically significant regulatory action.


Link to the proposed updates to OSHA Hazard Communication Standard


Comment period closes April 19, 2021 (Select Docket No. OSHA-2019-0001 at regulations.gov)



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