New OSHA Chemical Labeling Standards Coming

New OSHA changes for chemical labeling will incorporate several key elements of the United Nation’s Globally Harmonized System of Chemical Labeling (GHS) into the agency’s own Hazard Communication Standards (HCS). These requirements will call for U.S.-based chemical manufacturers and chemical importers to ensure their chemical containers display a label similar to those now used in Europe and many other GHS adopters beginning June 1, 2015.

The GHS inspired standards will require:

• Harmonized signal word: a single word used to indicate the relative level of severity of hazard and alert the reader to a potential hazard on the label. The signal words used are "danger" and "warning." "Danger" is used for the more severe hazards, while "warning" is used for less severe hazards.

• GHS pictogram: a symbol plus other graphic elements, such as a border, background pattern, or color that is intended to convey specific information about the hazards of a chemical. Each pictogram consists of a different symbol on a white background within a red square frame set on a point (i.e., a red diamond).

• Hazard statement: a statement assigned to a hazard class and category that describes the nature of the hazard(s) of a chemical, including, where appropriate, the degree of hazard.

• Precautionary statement: a phrase that describes recommended measures to minimize or prevent adverse effects resulting from exposure to a hazardous chemical; or improper storage or handling of a hazardous chemical.

Employers who only store chemicals have the flexibility to use OSHA’s new labeling system or stick with the old NFPA 704 Hazard Rating System or Hazardous Material Information System (HMIS) if they choose. However, the information supplied on these labels must be consistent with the newly revised HCS, e.g., no conflicting hazard warnings or pictograms.

OSHA plans to update the old, “alternative” labeling system requirements June 1, 2016. In addition to the new labeling requirements, chemical manufacturers must now supply customers with a GHS-standardized, 16-section SDS. The new format provides customers implementing the new HCS standards an easy-to-understand reference for labeling.

OSHA officials say the new changes provide “… a common and coherent approach to classifying chemicals and communicating hazard information on labels and safety data sheets.” Once implemented, OSHA leaders believe the revised standard will improve the quality and consistency of hazard information in the workplace, making it safer for workers by providing easily understandable information on appropriate handling and safe use of hazardous chemicals. This latest update, they say, will also help reduce trade barriers and result in productivity improvements for American businesses that regularly handle, store and use hazardous chemicals. Cost savings are also anticipated for American businesses that periodically update safety data sheets and labels for chemicals covered under the hazard communication standard.

OSHA estimates over 5 million workplaces in the United States will be affected by the revised HCS. These are all workplaces where employees—a total of approximately 43 million—could be exposed to hazardous chemicals. Among the 5 million workplaces, there are an estimated 90,000 establishments that create hazardous chemicals. Combined, these chemical producers employ nearly 3 million workers. OSHA expects to make updates to its own HCS every two years to keep up with the U.N.’s anticipated changes.

DuraLabel will present a webinar on the new GHS changes May 9, 2012.

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