Articles | Cases

Q & A's: What you need to know about the 2013 deadline for OSHA's New Hazard Communication Standard

OSHA's adoption of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) brings major changes for employers whose personnel handle hazardous chemicals. There are new chemical classification criteria to follow, revised markings and labels to recognize, and new 16-section Safety Data Sheets to complete. The revised Hazard Communication Standard (HCS2012) is a modification of HCS1994, designed to align with the United Nations' Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals.

While it will not be fully implemented until 2016, businesses face a deadline this year that involves employee training.

Some common questions from employers are addressed below:

Q. What should employers do during 2013?

A. All employers that use, handle or store chemicals must train employees about the new GHS-compliant chemical labels and Safety Data Sheets (SDS) by December 1, 2013. Since workplaces will start receiving products with the new labels and SDSs employees must understand them.

During the training, the new labels and SDSs must be adequately explained to employees. Employees must understand standardized headings and the sequence of the SDS information, as well as the relationship of SDS and label. Training on the standardized label elements must also be given.

Throughout the year, stay alert for newly formatted SDSs. Frontline employees such as those in shipping and the front office should be told to look for SDSs. This is true for shipments of existing chemicals as well as new chemicals. Updating the chemical inventory and monitoring the receipt of new SDSs, as well as talking to suppliers about their plans, will ease the transition. Designating a person to ensure compliance is critical to a smooth transition.

Q. Does this training take the place of trainings under the HCS1994 standard?

A. No. Other than to train employees on new GHS elements, the training provisions under the HCS have not substantially changed. Employers should continue to provide employees with effective information and training on hazardous chemicals in their work area at the time of their initial assignment, and whenever a new chemical hazard the employees have not previously been trained about is introduced into their work area. For the next two-plus years, training must include both the old and revised standard.

Under HCS2012, OSHA has added pyrophoric gases, simple asphyxiates and combustible dust to the definition of "hazardous chemical." The revised standard requires that workers be re-trained within two years of the publication of the final rule to facilitate recognition and understanding of the new labels and safety data sheets.

Q. How will labels change under the revised Hazard Communication Standard?

A. There are six elements of the new GHS label format.

All elements need to appear on the label, but the format can vary. This is one label sample.

Q. Where can I find the pictograms?

A. Downloadable pictograms can be found on the OSHA website. There are nine pictograms under the GHS. However, only eight pictograms are required under the HCS. OSHA does not regulate the Environmental Hazard Class; however, the EPA is expected to incorporate this element of GHS into their standards.

Q. What do I have to do about secondary or workplace containers?

A. All portable or working containers must identify the hazardous chemical, appropriate hazard warnings and specific information regarding the physical and health hazards. The only exception is if the employee who performs the transfer intends the container for immediate use. There is flexibility in how the containers are labeled. Employers may choose to label workplace containers either with the same label that would be on shipped containers for the chemical under the revised rule, or with label alternatives that meet the requirements for the standard.

Alternative labeling systems such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 704 Hazard Rating and the Hazardous Material Information System (HMIS) are permitted for workplace containers. However, the information supplied on these labels must be consistent with the revised HCS, e.g., no conflicting hazard warnings or pictograms. One potential source of confusion is the different classification standards between HMIS/NFPA and GHS. The GHS hazard categories, which are displayed in the SDS and typically not shown on the label, go from Category One - Severe Hazard to Category 5 - Minimal Hazard. The HMIS/NFPA classification is the inverse: 0 - Minimal Hazard to 4 - Severe Hazard.

Q. How is the SDS changing?

A. For consistency with GHS, the name has changed from Material Safety Data Sheets to Safety Data Sheets. While the information required on the SDS will remain essentially the same, the revised Standard requires a standardized 16-section format for all SDSs to provide a consistent sequence for organizing the information.

The format of the 16-section SDS includes the following sections:

The SDS contains Sections 12-15, to be consistent with the United Nations' Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) and although mandatory, OSHA will not enforce the content of these four sections because these sections are within other agencies' jurisdictions.

Q. When a new SDS is provided, do we have to maintain the old MSDS?

A. Yes. Old safety data sheets must be archived for 30 years. This can be electronic or paper. It is the employer's responsibility to ensure that updated SDSs are available to all employees on-site.

Q. How does this affect our written Hazard Communication Plan?

A. Reviewing the written hazard plan now will help identify what areas need to be addressed to comply with the new GHS. In reviewing the plan, pay particular attention to the sections on container labeling, Safety Data Sheets and Employee Training and Information as these will have to be updated and revised.

An important part of the plan is the chemical inventory. Having an up-to-date inventory is critical to managing the proliferation of new/revised SDSs.

Q. Besides the December 1, 2013 training deadline, what are the other key transitional dates?

A. The table below summarizes the phase-in dates:

June 1, 2015 - Chemical manufacturers, importers, distributors Comply with all the requirements of the GHS rule, including classify chemical hazards and prepare new labels and SDSs. Distributors have until December 1, 2015, to comply with the shipping requirements for GHS-compliant labels.
December 1, 2015 - Chemical manufacturers, distributors, and employers All shipments of chemical containers must include the new GHS-compliant label (signal word, pictogram, hazard statement, and precautionary statement).
June 1, 2016 - All employers that use, handle, store chemicals Update alternative workplace labeling and hazard communication program as necessary, and provide additional employee training for newly identified physical or health hazards.

During the transitional period, the employer may comply with either 29 CFR 1910.1200 (the final standard), or the current standard, or both.

The OSHA website includes a helpful comparison of the revised and existing standard.

For more detailed information about the changes to the HCS and helpful tools, visit