OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard: Get Ready For The Change!

Legal Alert

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has just recently published a new Proposed Rule -- “Update to the Hazard Communication Standard.” The associated Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will be published in March of 2019. The abstract provides as follows:

OSHA and other U.S. agencies have been involved in a long-term project to negotiate a globally harmonized approach to classifying chemical hazard, and providing labels and safety data sheets for hazardous chemicals. The result is the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). The GHS was adopted by the United Nations, with an international goal of as many countries as possible adopting it by 2008. OSHA incorporated the GHS into the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) in March 2012 to specify requirements for hazard classification and to standardize label components and information on safety data sheets, which will improve employee protection and facilitate international trade. However, the GHS is a living document and has been updated several times since OSHA’s rulemaking. OSHA's rulemaking was based on the third edition of the GHS and the UN recently completed the seventh. OSHA is conducting rulemaking to harmonize the HCS to the latest edition of the GHS and to codify a number of enforcement policies that have been issued since the 2012 standard.

The GHS, sometimes referred to as the “Purple Book,” was published in 2003, and is amended every two years. OSHA’s final rule incorporating the third revised edition of the GHS became effective on May 25, 2012. The 2012 version of the HCS was required to be implemented by June 1, 2016. Currently, all substances and mixtures are required to comply with the 2012 version of the HCS, as the transition periods have now ended (although an extension was provided under limited circumstances on May 29, 2015). The 2012 version of the HCS materially changed the previous HCS, but the HCS has not since been updated, notwithstanding the 2009 release of a revised GHS.

Although OSHA has been planning to further update the HCS, nothing has happened until the above-referenced Spring 2018 Regulatory Agenda, which notes a February 2019 timeframe for update. OSHA plans to update its HCS “to the latest edition of the GHS and to codify a number of enforcement policies that have been issued since the 2012 standard.”

OSHA’s HCS will need to be updated to conform with the latest 2017 edition of the GHS (which includes amendments and new content relating to the classification and labeling of chemical substances). OSHA’s HCS will also need to be updated to conform with the earlier editions of the GHS.

Although the ball is still in OSHA’s court and employers do not need to come into compliance with the anticipated changes just yet, they will certainly want to start preparing for those changes.

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