Washington: hazard standards

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Courtesy of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed on Sept. 30, 2009, to align the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) with provisions of the United Nations Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). The HCS requires chemical manufacturers and importers to evaluate chemical hazards and provide information to subsequent users. The standard now requires employers to establish a hazard communication program for employees who are exposed to chemicals in the workplace. Elements of the program include container labels, safety data sheets (SDS), and employee training.  The GHS was developed to provide a single, harmonized system to classify chemicals, labels and SDSs to increase the quality and consistency of information provided to workers, employers and chemical users. Under the GHS, labels would include signal words, pictograms and hazard and precautionary statements.

Key Changes

OSHA has proposed to modify the HCS to help ensure improved quality and consistency in the classification and labeling of chemicals. The proposed modifications include revised criteria for classification of chemical hazards; revised labeling provisions that include requirements for use of standardized signal words, pictograms, hazard statements and precautionary statements; a specified 16-section format for SDSs; and related revisions to definitions of terms used in the standard and employee training requirements on labels and SDSs.

OSHA is also proposing to modify provisions of a number of other standards, including standards for flammable and combustible liquids, process safety management and most substance-specific health standards, to ensure consistency with the modified HCS requirements. The GHS does not address training. The proposed HCS will require that workers are trained within two years of the publication of the final rule to facilitate recognition and understanding of the new labels and SDSs, however.

In the proposed rule – which is expected to affect more than 5 million workplaces – OSHA requests comments be organized, to the extent possible, around several issues and numbered questions.

Comments Requested

OSHA believes that standardized label elements would be more effective in communicating hazard information, standardized headings and a consistent order of information would improve the utility of SDSs, and training would support and enhance the effectiveness of the new label and SDS requirements. OSHA requests information on the effectiveness of the proposed modifications to the HCS in protecting employees from chemical hazards in the workplace.

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