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U.S. HazCom Rule Adapts to World Standard

After almost a decade of sometimes contentious stakeholder input and debate, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Labor David Michaels announced in March that OSHA’s Hazard Communications Standard (1910.1200; 1928.59 in construction) has been substantially updated and improved.

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LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan

Commending OSHA’s progress, LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan said, “This standard will significantly improve warning and informational labels on thousands of hazardous chemicals, many of which are encountered by our members on their jobs.”

The standard – which takes effect 60 days from its March 26 publication date – brings chemical hazard warning systems in the United States into line with a superior system, the Globally Harmonized System (GHS), endorsed by the U.N. and already operational in Europe, Canada and elsewhere in the developed world. For this reason, the effort to update the old HazCom standard – adopted in 1983 under the Reagan Administration – enjoyed support from the American chemical industry that sells its products, not only in the U.S., but all over the world. Meeting two different labeling requirements was an unnecessary and costly burden for manufacturers.

The big change is newly required labels on chemical containers. Under the old standard, on-container labeling was inconsistent and non-standard, an afterthought to Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) that were required for each chemical. While MSDSs were, by rule, kept on-site, they were generally stored in an office. On-container safety labels will make on-the-spot hazard identification far easier for workers. It will also encourage the use of more appropriate hazard protections and provide ready guidance for managing spills and other exposure emergencies that sometimes occur. The labels will have a designated format that includes a standardized signal word, a pictogram and a hazard statement for each class and category of chemical (see graphic). The pictogram is considered particularly important due to increasing fluency and literacy issues in multinational production and trade. In addition, labels will carry a precautionary statement and contact information for the manufacturer or importer.

Modified MSDSs – now known as Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) – are still required and must include a number of standardized sections along with the same information as the on-container labels. In a matter that stirred some controversy during the standard’s adoption process (see HazCom Standard Aims for 21st Century Protection, LIFELINES ONLINE,March 2010), the new rule requires inclusion of the threshold limit values (TLVs) of the American Conference of Government Industrial Hygienists as well as OSHA’s permissible exposure limits (PELs) and any other exposure limits used by manufacturers, importers or employer must be included.

All workers must be trained on the new labels and SDSs by December 2013.

“In today’s political climate, progress in updating standards is difficult,” O’Sullivan acknowledged. “Yet, it is no secret that our rules for chemical safety were dangerously out of date. OSHA deserves credit for persevering and getting this job done.”

[Steve Clark]

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