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OSHA’s Proposed Updates to the Hazard Communication Standard

Cotney Hazard Communication
April 15, 2021 at 8:18 a.m.

By Cotney Attorneys & Consultants

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced on February 16, 2021, a proposal to update the Hazard Communications Standard (HCS).

This standard requires employers to provide their employees with information about classified chemical hazards in the workplace. It also requires chemical importers and manufacturers to identify and classify the chemicals they import or produce.

The HCS was most recently revised in 2012 to align the U.S. standard with the U.N.’s Globally Harmonized System of Classification of Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) Revision 3. The GHS is updated every two years. OSHA’s latest proposal will revise HCS to align with GHS Revision 7. Within this proposal are provision updates that may broadly impact manufacturers, importers, and employers.

Changes for manufacturers and importers

OSHA’s proposal includes some significant revisions to the rules for importers and manufacturers. Among these are new categories and revised criteria for classifying specific health and physical hazards, new regulations for concentrations claimed to be trade secrets, updated requirements for labeling containers, and revisions to content requirements of safety data sheets (SDS). Some of the highlights are listed below:

  • Skin corrosion and irritation: The proposed rules would expand classification for chemicals in this category and revise the definitions of “skin corrosion” and “skin irritation” by removing specific exposure time parameters.

  • Aerosols: The proposal calls for expanding the “flammable aerosols” hazard class and including non-flammable aerosols. The class would be renamed “aerosols,” with a new category for non-flammable aerosols.

  • Flammable gases: The proposal calls for dividing Category 1 “extremely flammable” into two subcategories. Category 1A would include chemically unstable gases and pyrophoric gases, indicating that they have a wide range of flammable properties. Category 1B would signify gases that have a burning velocity or flammability limit below specific rates.

  • Concentrations considered trade secrets: The proposal would allow withholding a chemical’s exact concentration if it is considered a trade secret. In that case, the applicable SDS must reference the prescribed concentration range instead of the actual concentration.

  • Small container labels: This proposal would revise labeling requirements for small containers if it is not feasible to include the full label information. For such containers, the complete label would be required on the outer package. When not in use, the small containers would need to be stored within the outer package.

  • Safety data sheets: The proposed rules include several revisions to SDS content requirements, including details about interactive effects and particle size.

Once OSHA finalizes the rule, most labels and SDS content will likely have to be revised.

​Changes for employers

For the workplace, the HCS includes regulations for maintaining a hazard communication program; labeling chemical containers; creating and distributing safety data sheets; and training employees about chemical dangers and how to protect themselves. Although most of the rules are directed toward chemical manufacturers and importers, all employers should review the OSHA proposal for any updates that will affect their existing training requirements and hazard communication programs.

OSHA published this notice in the Federal Register and will accept written comments through April 19, 2021. The notice is 256 pages, so interested parties should allow enough time to evaluate the proposal and compose appropriate responses.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.



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