June 17, 2021 / Roger Marks

Chemical Safety Regulations to Watch in 2021

This post was sponsored by Lion Technology Inc.

Chemical safety regulations aren’t static—and occupational and environmental health and safety professionals should keep an eye on several regulatory changes in 2021. In particular, updates to OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), potential revisions to emergency response standards, and EPA’s ongoing risk evaluations of TSCA inventory chemicals could impact workplace health and safety this year.

Update to the HCS

Nearly ten years ago, OSHA adopted elements of the United Nations' Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) into its Hazard Communication Standard, a subpart of Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations (29 CFR 1910.1200). While U.S. workplaces adjusted to the new system—including new hazard labels, a new Safety Data Sheet format, and new hazard classifications—the GHS continued to evolve at the UN.

In February 2021, OSHA proposed updating the HCS to align it with the 7th edition of the GHS. While this change may not be as wide-ranging as the initial shift to the GHS system, there are significant adjustments to prepare for.

OSHA’s proposed rule would add new hazard classification categories for aerosols, desensitized explosives, and flammable gases. It would also revise certain hazard and precautionary statements to improve precision and clarity.

New or revised definitions for terms including “combustible dust,” “gas,” and “exposure or exposed” will be part of the update as well.

With respect to GHS labels on shipped containers, OSHA plans to revise language found in Appendix C of 29 CFR 1910.1200 to clarify how HCS labeling requirements interact with the hazard labels required by the U.S. Department of Transportation under Hazardous Materials Regulations (CFR Title 49). The proposed HCS revision will codify streamlined labeling requirements for chemical containers that are too small to fit a full GHS-style hazard label, such as vials and dropper bottles.

The updated standard will also add concentration ranges to be used on Safety Data Sheets to help identify substances for which the exact formulation is claimed as confidential business information (CBI).

An OSHA brief discusses how the new requirements will affect labeling requirements (PDF), while the full proposed rule can be viewed in the Federal Register (PDF).

TSCA Chemical Risk Evaluations

While we may think of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) as primarily an environmental protection program, EPA’s determinations about risks posed by chemical substances can have substantial effects on workplace safety.

Under TSCA, as amended in 2016, EPA must evaluate the risks posed by chemicals on the TSCA inventory. When EPA determines that a chemical poses unreasonable risks to workers, the agency is authorized to restrict or prohibit the chemical’s use.

Through a Memorandum of Understanding released in January, EPA has agreed to share information with OSHA about chemical substances determined to pose risks to workers so that OSHA can develop appropriate worker protections.

Updated Emergency Response Standards

Finally, OSHA is in the early stages of a rulemaking to update various emergency response provisions of 29 CFR. Some of OSHA’s emergency response and preparedness provisions are out of date and do not adequately address all the hazards that emergency responders face today. With this rulemaking effort, OSHA aims to update its regulations to reflect developments in safety and health practices that are already incorporated into industry consensus standards.

As facilities return to full strength following the COVID-19 pandemic, OEHS professionals should keep an eye on these regulatory activities to ensure compliance and protect employees.


EPA: “Memorandum of Understanding Between EPA and OSHA for Implementation of TSCA Section 5 and Sharing of Confidential Business Information” (January 2021).

Federal Register: “Hazard Communication Standard” (PDF, February 2021).

Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs: “Emergency Response.”

OSHA: OSHA Brief: “Hazard Communication Standard: Labels and Pictograms” (PDF).

Roger Marks

Roger Marks is a content writer with Lion Technology Inc., a leading provider of remote and in-person training to simplify environmental, safety, and hazardous materials compliance.


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