by David Galt, BLR Legal Editor
OSHA recently revised its hazard communication, or “worker right-to-know” standard, that requires employers to provide safety training and information to workers that are exposed to hazardous chemicals. According to OSHA, the revisions will affect over 5 million workplaces and 40 million workers.
The revisions align U.S. worker right-to-know requirements with the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, or GHS. The changes are designed to reduce confusion about chemical hazards in the workplace, and improve safety training and worker understanding of chemical hazards in the workplace through improved chemical labeling and the new 16-section safety data sheets, or SDSs. The SDSs will replace the existing material safety data sheets.
The GHS revisions will become law effective May 25, 2012.
Phase-In Period for Safety Training
OSHA will allow employers a 4-year transition or phase-in period to comply with all of the new GHS requirements in the worker right-to-know rule. The first transition deadline will apply to safety training on chemical labels and SDSs for workers exposed to hazardous chemicals.
- May 25, 2012 to November 30, 2013 Transition Period. Train employees how to read and interpret chemical labels and safety data sheets in compliance with either:
- The pre-GHS hazard communication standard for labels and material safety data sheets (MSDSs); or
- The GHS revisions for new-style labels and SDSs;
- or both the pre-GHS hazard communication standard and GHS revisions at the same time
- December 1, 2013. All employers must train employees about the new GHS-style chemical labels and SDSs.
Safety Training Under GHS
Many employers will go through a phase-in period where both old and new-style chemical labels, old-style MSDSs, and new-style SDSs will be present in the workplace. Until December 1, 2013, OSHA will allow employers the choice to train employees under the pre-GHS hazard communication standard requirements, or the standard with GHS amendments, or both.
Start training ASAP. OSHA has stated in the preamble to the revised hazard communication standard that “the [label and SDS] training needs to be completed by the time employees begin to see the new labels and SDS rather than waiting until after the transition has been completed.” Therefore, employers should review all chemical labels and MSDSs or SDSs shipped to them. Some chemical manufacturers have already created the GHS-style labels and SDSs, and have already started sending them to employers. Once employers start to receive the new GHS-compliant labels and SDSs, it would be prudent to immediately start training employees how to read and interpret them.
Integrate old-style and new-style labels and data sheets into safety training. From now until December 1, 2013, employers have the choice to train employees to read the old labels and MSDSs, or the new-style labels and SDSs, or both sets of labels/sheets at the same time. For many employers, the GHS-compliant label and SDS training should be integrated with training for the older labels and MSDSs.
SDS and MSDS file management. During the phase-in period, OSHA will not require employers to maintain separate sets of MSDSs and SDSs for compliance purposes. They can be integrated as long as the most current MSDS or SDS for a chemical is available.
Worker Right-to-Know State Laws
By September 22, 2012, states with OSHA-approved state safety and health regulatory programs must add OSHA’s GHS amendments to their hazard communication standards. 21 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved programs that regulate private (private businesses and nonprofit organizations) and public (state and local governments) sector workplaces. States may adopt the revisions earlier, and some states may adopt their own revisions that are stricter than federal requirements. See the relevant state Hazard Communication Standard analysis for updates.
David Galt is a Legal Editor for BLR’s environmental and safety publications, focusing primarily on training and safety and health-related topics. He has spent 15 years in the environmental regulatory field as a lobbyist and policy analyst, and has a Master’s Degree in environmental management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Dave serves on the National Environmental, Safety and Health Training Association (NESHTA) Board of Directors.