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Analysis: The Revised OSHA Hazard Communication Standard

Posted: March 30, 2012

By Edward M. Ranier, NFDA OSHA counsel

On March 20, 2012, OSHA released its Final Rule revising the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (1910.1200). It includes portions of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) that are appropriate to OSHA's regulatory sector, which is workplace safety and health, and retains portions of the existing OSHA Hazard Communication Standard regulating employee exposure to hazardous and toxic chemicals. This revision also includes revisions to substance specific OSHA standards, such as the Formaldehyde Standard (1910.1048).

The revised OSHA Hazard Communication standard was published as a Final Rule in the Federal Register on March 26, 2012. By its terms, the Final Rule goes into effect 60 days after its publication date and will specifically pre-empt state laws and regulations covered by its contents. OSHA state plan states can still adopt their own version of this revised standard, if the state standard is as effective as the federal standard or more stringent.

The effective completion dates, contained in the revised standard are as follows:

  • December 1, 2013. Employers, such as funeral establishments, must train employees on the new label elements contained in the standard and the new format for Safety Data Sheets. Material safety data sheets (MSDS) are now referred to as Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for conformity with the GHS. The revised standard changes the format and contents of the presently acceptable material safety data sheets and the new labeling requirements includes pictograms, identifying the hazards of a particular chemical, which are not currently in use on warning labels and will require education of employees to recognize the new symbols. Examples of the new pictograms and a sample label can be found on OSHA's website.
  • June 1, 2015. Chemical manufacturers, importers, distributors and employers must comply with all modified provisions of the revised Hazard Communication Standard except that distributors of chemicals covered by the standard are allowed to ship products, labeled by manufacturers under the old system, until December 1, 2015. Chemical manufacturers are required to review acceptable scientific evidence to determine if a chemical is hazardous, in a physical or health sense, and then develop labels and SDS per the new requirements of the revised standard. Existing chemicals must be re-evaluated by the manufacturer or distributor and, consistent with the new criteria contained in the standard, must be classified according to the type, degree and severity of the hazard it possesses.
  • June 1, 2016. Employers, such as funeral establishments, are required to update alternative workplace labeling and their written Hazard Communication Program to bring them into full compliance with the revised standard and to provide additional training for newly identified physical or health hazards.

During the transition period, consistent with the aforementioned effective completion dates, manufacturers, distributors and employers can comply either with the newly revised standard or the current standard or both to be in compliance. This does not change, however, the aforementioned required completion dates.

OSHA's rationale for the first required effective completion date of December 1, 2013, whereby employers, such as funeral establishments, would be required to train employees on the new label elements and SDS format is that, while full compliance with the Final Rule will begin in 2015, it is possible that American workplaces will begin to see labels and SDS that are consistent with the new standard shortly after the publication of the revised Hazard Communication Standard. OSHA feels that it is important that when employees begin to see the new labels and SDS in their workplace, they will be familiar with them, understand how to use them and access the information effectively.

In general, the major areas of change to the current Hazard Communication Standard are in hazard classification, labels and safety data sheets. The definition of "hazard" has been changed in the revised standard to provide specific criteria for classification of health and physical hazards as well as classification of mixtures. These specific criteria are designed to help ensure that evaluations of the hazardous effects are consistent across manufacturers and that labels and safety data sheets are more accurate as a result. As an example, hazards are broken down by class, such as carcinogenicity. This class would then be further sub-divided into categories of the hazard, such as known carcinogens and suspected human carcinogens, as examples.

As to labeling, chemical manufacturers and importers will be required to provide a label that includes a harmonized signal word such as "danger," a pictogram with a specific required design and content, and a hazard statement for each hazard class and category. Precautionary statements must also be provided on the labels by the manufacturer.

The present exception to labeling containers of chemicals in the workplace, such as labeling a beaker of mixed embalming fluid, is retained in the standard. The chemical in the beaker must be intended for immediate use. If it will not be used immediately, it must be labeled with either the information required for manufacturers' labels on shipped containers or by using a product identifier or words, pictures, symbols or a combination thereof, which provides at least general information regarding the hazards of a chemical that, in conjunction with other information immediately available to employees under the employer's written hazard communication program, will provide employees with the specific information regarding the physical and health hazards of the hazardous chemical.

SDS formerly known as MSDS, have been given a new specified format which must be followed by the manufacturer. Information of immediate concern to employees, including identification of the product, hazard identification, composition/information on ingredients and first aid measures must come, in that order, at the beginning of the SDS to give adequate, immediate notice to employees of the extent of the hazard of the chemical. Other required information such as firefighting measures, accidental release measures, handling and storage, physical control/personal protection, physical and chemical properties and stability and reactivity follow, as does toxicological information, ecological information, disposal considerations, transport information, regulatory information. The SDS must also contain the date on which it was created or revised.

The SDS will include the current requirement that threshold limit values so that employers and employees will have information to help them assess the hazard(s) presented in their workplaces. OSHA permissible exposure limits – which can be found in substance specific standards , such as the Formaldehyde Standard – and other exposure limits used or recommended by the chemical manufacturer/importer or employer, must also be included in the SDS.

The requirement that each new SDS received by the employer from the manufacturer or distributor be reviewed with employees as part of their training has not changed. SDS will still have to be maintained for a quick, unobstructive reference at the work site. This can be done electronically as long as there are no barriers to access.

The specific design of chemical labels has also been changed by the revised standard; labels must now contain pictograms (a symbol representing the hazard). The pictogram must be printed on a white background with a red square frame set in a red diamond.

Specific revisions to the Formaldehyde Standardinclude changes to the requirements for regulated areas. After June 1, 2016, the following notice must be posted at all entrances and access ways: "Danger formaldehyde may cause cancer. Causes skin, eye and respiratory irritation. Authorized personnel only."

A sign is now required for storage areas for clothing and equipment containing formaldehyde; the sign must state: "Danger formaldehyde-contaminated (clothing) equipment may cause cancer. Causes skin, eye and respiratory irritation. Do not breathe the vapor." Do not get on skin. In addition, containers for contaminated clothing must be labeled consistent with the new labeling requirements of the Hazard Communication Standard and contain the same warning. This requirement also goes into effect June 1, 2016.

Requirements in the formaldehyde standard for handling formaldehyde contaminated waste and debris, resulting from leaks or spills, are revised to reflect the fact that the required labels on the sealed containers are consistent with the requirements of the revised Hazard Communication Standard and that compliance is required by manufacturers, importers, distributors and employers.

Employers are required to include formaldehyde in the hazard communication program they have established to comply with the revised Hazard Communication Standard. Employers must insure that each employee has access to labels on containers of formaldehyde and SDS, and is trained in accordance with the requirements of the Hazard Communication Standard. Materials capable of releasing formaldehyde at levels above .5 ppm are to be given labels that, among other things, address cancer and respiratory sensitization and contain the hazard statement, "May cause cancer." At a minimum, all materials capable of releasing formaldehyde at levels of .1 ppm to .5 ppm must identify the product as containing formaldehyde, list the name and address of the responsible party, and state that physical and health hazard information is readily available from the employer and from SDS.

Required air monitoring and exposure limits for chemicals, such as formaldehyde, are not altered or amended by the revised Hazard Communication Standard. Also unchanged are the current provisions requiring a written hazard communication program that describes how the employer will meet criteria contained in the standard for labels and other forms of warnings, SDS, and employee information and training.

The written hazard communication program must still be available, upon request, to employees and other designated individuals. Requirements that the employer obtain an SDS for each hazardous and toxic chemical at the work site, train employees in the contents of Safety Data Sheets and have the Safety Data Sheet on site for reference are unchanged.

Employers are still required to provide employees with effective information and training on the hazardous chemicals present in their work site at the time of their initial assignment and whenever a new physical or health hazard is introduced into the work area. The hazard communication program must still be site specific, contain a list of hazardous chemicals known to be present at the work site and describe methods to inform employees of the hazards of non routine tasks. Additionally, some OSHA state plan state may have additional listing requirements that also would not be affected by this revision.

The exception contained in the original Hazard Communication Standard for consumer products used in the workplace for the purpose intended by the manufacturer or importer of the product remains. The use and duration and frequency of exposure must still not be greater than the range of exposure that could reasonably be experienced by consumers when used for the purpose intended. This is the "Windex" exception.

NFDA members must complete all training on the new SDS and labeling requirements before the required completion date of December 1, 2013. This is essential since OSHA will, without any doubt, begin making inspections after December 1, 2013, to confirm compliance with the first required completion date.

Additional information about the new requirements of the Hazard Communication Standard can be found on the OSHA website, This page contains a variety of information, such as Q&A's and fact sheets, to help you understand your compliance obligations.

NFDA members who have questions about the new legal requirements created by the revised Hazard Communication Standard or accompanying revision to the Formaldehyde Standard or need assistance in meeting the first required completion date of December 1, 2013, can rely on NFDA for assistance. Members may call the NFDA OSHA Hotline, which can assist with nearly all inquiries at no cost, at 800-633-2674.

NFDA members can also call NFDA OSHA Counsel Edward M. Ranier with OSHA-related legal questions at 410-967-1812; an initial consultation is free to NFDA members as a benefit of membership.