Thresholds for Material Labeling, Data Sheets Have Changed Little, HazCom Architect Says

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By Robert Iafolla  

June 11 — Employers should generally use the same threshold for determining whether to mark a hazardous material under the revised hazard communication standard as they would have under the previous rule despite the change in the regulatory text, according to the architect of the standard.

A label and a safety data sheet are usually warranted for shipping a substance when there is one good toxicological study showing it's linked to a health risk, even though the standard calls for a weight-of-evidence test, health and safety consultant Jennifer Silk said June 3 at the American Industrial Hygiene Association's annual conference in San Antonio.

Evaluating the weight of the evidence allows the classifier to assign the appropriate hazard categories, as well as pictograms, signal words and hazard statements based on those hazard categories, Silk said.

“So that means that every chemical manufacturer who's classifying that chemical should have the same hazard information,” Silk said. “That is what really improves the communication and allows for differentiation of protective measures based on risk.”

Silk led the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's effort to revise the hazard communication standard when she was an agency official. Now a consultant to OSHA, Silk addressed some common employer concerns about the revised standard during her appearance at the industrial hygiene conference.

OSHA published its updated regulations in March 2012. The bulk of that standard, which harmonized U.S. rules with the United Nations' Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, takes effect in June 2015.

New Method, Same Protection

The change of hazard evaluation method from the one-study test to the weight-of-evidence evaluation has caused a significant amount of confusion, Maureen Ruskin, OSHA's top hazard communication official, said at the conference.

“In particular, I've heard claims that the use of the weight of evidence is reducing protection and will result in fewer chemicals being deemed hazardous,” Ruskin said. “This is not true.”

The hazard evaluation criteria in the updated standard reflect the type of assessment that should have taken place under the previous version, Silk said. The updated standard does a better job of communicating those criteria, she said.

Return to the Standard's Purpose

Silk said that one major lesson learned in fielding questions about the revised standard is that many people don't understand previous versions of the standard.

“A lot of the questions OSHA gets are on provisions that have not changed, but people haven't read them in a long time or else they never knew they were there,” Silk said. “And so now all of a sudden they're appalled at something that's been there since 1983.”

Generally speaking, employers should first go back and consider the purpose of the standard—to make sure people have the information they need to protect workers—when they have questions about particular provisions, Silk said.

Ingredients, Small Packages

OSHA has received many questions about disclosing ingredients, which is a new requirement under the updated version of the standard, Silk said. A general rule of thumb is to “err on the side of disclosing,” she said, although there may be instances in which legitimate trade secrets, the presence of ingredients with no known risks or other factors that would warrant leaving that information off the safety data sheet.

In addition, OSHA understands that there will be times when the employer doesn't know exact percentages of a substance, Silk said. In those instances, employers should report the concentration range if they have that information, she said.

For small packages that don't have enough space for fold-out or pull-out labeling with all the required information, OSHA is considering an accommodation allowing the manufacturer to provide product identifier, signal word, appropriate pictograms, name and phone number, Silk said. They would also provide a statement with the full information on hazards on the outside package that holds the small packages, she said.

OSHA has developed technical guidance on hazard classification that the agency hopes to publish by the end of summer, Ruskin said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Iafolla in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jim Stimson at

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