The final deadline by which OSHA expects U.S. employers to fully comply with its 2012 final rule revising the Hazard Communication Standard is less than eight months away – and the clock is ticking.
By June 1, 2016, employers should have their workplace labeling procedures in place and their employees trained on what the agency has termed the "right to understand" standard, differentiating it from the previous "right to know" regulation.
A May 2015 memorandum to OSHA regional administrators from the Director of OSHA's Directorate of Enforcement Programs, Thomas Galassi, was issued three days before the most recent deadline, June 1, 2015 for manufacturers to be producing safety data sheets and labels in format that complies with the Globally Harmonized System (GHS). In that document, Galassi indicated many chemical suppliers would likely miss that June 1 deadline, referring to a memorandum in February that said OSHA inspectors should take into account good-faith efforts by chemical manufacturers, importers, and distributors trying to comply with the revised standard but having not received classification and safety data sheet information from suppliers upstream.
"Since issuing the guidance on February 9, 2015, OSHA has received an overwhelming number of additional questions and requests for further clarification on behalf of manufacturers, importers, and distributors. Many of the questions relate to the use of HCS 1994-compliant labels on containers packaged for shipment (i.e., existing stock)," the memo stated.
According to the revised standard, manufacturers and importers must classify the hazards of chemicals they produce or import, and distributors must transmit the required information to employers. Employers, in turn, must provide information to their employees about any hazardous chemicals to which they are exposed, using a hazard communication program, labels and other forms of warning, safety data sheets, and information and training.
The revised standard allows distributors to continue shipping chemicals with labels that meet the old standard, though only until Dec. 1 of this year.
According to the final rule, employers are to ensure that each container of a hazardous chemical is labeled with a product identifier, signal word, hazard statement(s), pictogram(s) and precautionary statement(s). However, that does not apply to portable containers into which hazardous chemicals are being transferred from labeled containers and that are intended only for immediate use by the employee conducting the transfer.
In addition, the final rule states that employers "may use signs, placards, process sheets, batch tickets, operating procedures, or other such written materials in lieu of affixing labels to individual stationary process containers, as long as the alternative method identifies the containers to which it is applicable and conveys the information required . . . to be on a label."
Fortunately, OSHA has provided a great deal of information about the new standard on its website (https://www.osha.gov/dep/enforcement/hcs_guide_052015.html); examples include a "Steps to an Effective Hazard Communication Program for Employers That Use Hazardous Chemicals" fact sheet, a side-by-side comparison of the previous and new standards and the memos issued by Galassi.