OSHA Releases Final Rule Aligning Hazard Communication Standard with GHS

The Occupational Safety & Health Reporter™ provides complete news coverage and documentation of federal and state occupational safety and health programs, standards, legislation, regulations, enforcement, and Review Commission decisions.

By Greg Hellman

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration released a final rule March 20 that aligns its hazard communication standard with international systems.

The rules include a category for “hazards not otherwise classified” and cover combustible dusts--issues that had raised concerns among industry groups and safety advocates.

The new rule aligns the hazard communication standard (29 C.F.R.1910.1200) with the United Nations' Globally Harmonized System for Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. Completing a regulatory process that began with an advance notice of proposed rulemaking in 2006, the rule changes the agency's criteria for classifying physical and health hazards, adopts standardized labeling requirements, and requires a standardized order of information on safety data sheets.

“Exposure to hazardous chemicals is one of the most serious dangers facing American workers today,” Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said in announcing the rule.

“OSHA's 1983 Hazard Communication Standard gave workers the right to know,” she added. “This update will give them the right to understand.”

The rule will prevent an estimated 43 deaths, 585 injuries and illnesses, and save businesses $475.2 million each year, according to the Department of Labor.

Although the agency has released a copy of the regulatory text, it is not scheduled for publication in the Federal Register until March 26 and will not become effective until 60 days after that.

'Hazards Not Otherwise Classified.'
OSHA revised its “unclassified hazards” category, contained within the proposal, and renamed the category “Other hazards which do not result in classification.”

Under the new category, employers would have to include information on chemicals with adverse physical or health effects that are identified during the evaluation of scientific evidence, even if the chemicals do not fall under any of the existing hazard classes, the rule said.

The final rule also removed requirements for the type of information employers must include on labels for chemicals under the category, because it could be confusing, the preamble to the rule added.

In comments on the proposal, repeated meetings with the Office of Management and Budget, and letters to the White House, industry associations, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, urged the agency to remove the category.

The Coalition for Workplace Safety, a group of industry associations, in a Feb. 10 letter called the unclassified hazards category “open-ended, and therefore subject to entirely too broad and discretionary an interpretation, making it unworkable.”

“OSHA does not intend to impose new requirements, or to bypass rulemaking, but includes the definition to continue the longstanding requirements that such hazards be disclosed,” the preamble said. “As finalized and clarified, the relevant provision does not expand on those requirements or add new burdens; on the contrary, it preserves requirements in the current rule.”

Standard Covers Combustible Dusts.
While it removed combustible dusts from the “hazards not otherwise classified” category, OSHA includes dusts under its definition for hazardous chemicals, requiring that employers account for them on safety data sheets and in worker training.

Furthermore, since the agency has a separate rulemaking underway for combustible dusts, it declined to provide a definition for them in its rule aligning the hazard communication standard with GHS.

Under the new rule, employers will be required to add the signal word “warning” and the hazard statement “may form combustible dust concentrations in air” on labels for dusts.

Industry associations had urged OSHA to remove coverage for combustible dusts under the rule, arguing that doing so would transform it into a de facto dust standard, for which it should continue the separate rulemaking.

“We're considering combustible dust exactly the way we've considered it for 25 years. We have guidance out there on how combustible dust has to be covered,” David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, told BNA March 20. “This really just continues exactly that.”

The agency added in the preamble that it would continue its efforts to develop new criteria at the United Nations for classification of combustible dusts.

Threshold Limit Values to be Listed.
The new standard will also require that the Threshold Limit Values for chemical exposure set by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) continue to be listed on safety data sheets for chemicals.

OSHA's current hazard communication standard requires material safety data sheets to list the values. However, in its proposal to align the standard with GHS, the agency removed that requirement.

Labor unions and professional associations, such as the American Industrial Hygiene Association, urged OSHA to restore the provision in the final rule.

“Levels that are recommended by the ACGIH as well as [occupational exposure limits]--they were under the old hazard communication standard--we required they be on [material safety data sheets], and now we require they be included on the [safety data sheets],” Michaels said. “Part of the reason we elected to include them is many of the OSHA [permissible exposure limits] are quite out of date and it's very important to get complete information out to workers and employers so that they can protect themselves.”

Implementation Dates.
Under the final rule, employers must train their workers on all of the rule's new labeling and safety data sheet requirements by Dec. 1, 2013.

In addition, the labels themselves must comply with the new requirements by June 1, 2015. The rule gives distributors six more months, until Dec. 1, 2015, to accommodate those labels they receive close to the compliance date and an additional year to employers, until June 1, 2016, to update their hazard communication programs.

Various industry associations, such as the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates, had pressed OSHA to extend their implementation dates to as far as five years after the promulgation of the final rule to give small businesses time to relabel chemicals and train workers.

“The effective dates will be Dec. 1, 2013, to train employees on new label elements and the format, and that's because right now they're already seeing these new labels,” Michaels said.

Hazard Categories.
As in the proposal, the final standard includes 10 health hazard categories and 16 physical hazard categories.

The health hazard categories are acute toxicity, skin corrosion or irritation, serious eye damage or eye irritation, respiratory or skin sensitization, germ cell mutagenicity, carcinogenicity, reproductive toxicity, specific target organ toxicity through single exposure, specific target organ toxicity through repeated exposure, and aspiration hazards.

The physical hazard categories are explosives; flammable gases; flammable aerosols; oxidizing gases; gases under pressure; flammable liquids; flammable solids; self-reactive chemicals; pyrophoric liquids; pyrophoric solids; self-heating chemicals; chemicals, in contact with water, that emit flammable gases; oxidizing liquids; oxidizing solids; organic peroxides; and corrosive to metals.

Safety data sheets themselves must have 16 sections, covering areas such as substance identification, hazard identification, first-aid measures, and physical and chemical properties.

Labels must include a signal-word hazard statement, relevant hazard statements, pictograms, and precautionary statements.

The rule requires information to be provided on labels and safety data sheets when shipped regulated chemical concentrations are above 0.1 percent. The rule also requires that hazard labels carry one or more of eight red-framed pictograms based on the hazard classification of the substance in question.

Reaction Mixed.
Industry associations, professional organizations, and labor unions offered mixed reaction to OSHA's final rule.

“We are very pleased with the final rule OSHA issued,” Bill Kojola, an industrial hygienist for the AFL-CIO, told BNA March 20. “We are of course pleased it maintains the requirement to list TLVs on safety data sheets, it was important the final rule not weaken worker protections.”

Kojola added that the issues of covering combustible dust and simple asphyxiants under the rule were “appropriately handled and maintains the protections that were in the [hazard communication] rule and did so in a way that's very clear.”

Marc Freedman, executive director of labor law policy with the Chamber of Commerce, however, criticized inclusion of the “hazards not otherwise classified” category as “a cosmetic change that I don't think answers the concerns we had earlier about the confusion the unclassified hazards category would create.”

He further added that the implementation deadlines requiring workers to be trained on reading new labels before workplaces must update them was “illogical.”

“Why would you set a requirement for training before you set a requirement for these labels to be in place?” Freedman said. “If anything, you want to push those companies to put out new labels first.”

The American Chemistry Council, meanwhile, applauded OSHA for issuing a standard.

“This new standard will help our industry improve the communication of important safety information, minimize transaction costs, and create efficiencies in labeling chemicals both domestically and abroad,” Michael Walls, ACC's vice president of regulatory and technical affairs, said in a March 20 statement. “It will also help promote better trade relations by minimizing differences between countries and could contribute to President Obama's goal of doubling U.S. exports under the National Export Initiative.”