June 6, 2024

OSHA Updates Hazard Communication Standard

A final rule updating OSHA’s hazard communication standard (HCS) will go into effect on July 19, 2024, the agency announced on May 20. According to OSHA’s press release, the new rule is intended to improve the amount and quality of information on chemical product labels and safety data sheets (SDSs) and help workers and first responders act more quickly in emergencies. Labels on small packaging must be more comprehensive and readable under the updated standard, and trade secrets will no longer prevent SDSs from including critical hazard information, OSHA states. Other changes include a clearer hazard classification process; updated hazard classes that aim to better inform users about explosives, aerosols, and chemicals under pressure; and updated precautionary statements on safe handling, storage, and disposal of hazardous chemicals.

According to the Federal Register’s summary, “the revisions in this final rule will enhance the effectiveness of the HCS by ensuring employees are appropriately apprised of the chemical hazards to which they may be exposed, thus reducing the incidence of chemical-related occupational illnesses and injuries.”

The update will harmonize the HCS with the seventh revision of the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), an international approach to hazard communication. The GHS provides “a unified classification system of chemicals based on their physical and health-related hazards,” the Federal Register states. The seventh revision of the GHS was published in 2017. As the U.N. updates the GHS every two years, the 10th revision, published in 2023, is its most current version. OSHA’s HCS was last updated in 2012 to align with the third revision of the GHS.

One anonymous commenter quoted in the Register explained the rationale for aligning the HCS with the GHS. “Globally harmonizing the system for classification and labeling across a big part of the world was also beneficial as it provided consistency, and more simplicity, especially for foreign products utilized domestically,” the commenter wrote. Many of the U.S.’s major trading partners have aligned or are planning to align their chemical regulations with Revision 7 of the GHS.

The Register adds that some of the updates to the HCS address areas where the 2012 standard was unclear, such as the provisions on small container labels and concentration ranges for trade secrets. OSHA has issued several letters of interpretation clarifying these provisions. The updates concerning small container labels and concentration ranges also align with Canada’s Hazardous Products Regulations, improving regulatory coordination and transparency between Canada and the U.S.

Since the HCS was first introduced in the 1980s, OSHA planned to periodically update the standard “to keep pace with the advancement of scientific principles underlying the hazard determination process as well as improvements in communication systems,” the Register states. The agency announced the most recent update to the standard in a notice of proposed rulemaking issued in February 2021. Stakeholder feedback was collected via an extended public comment period and an informal hearing in September of that year.

The updated HCS may be viewed on Regulations.gov. More information can be found in the Federal Register notice and in OSHA’s press release.