OSHA Modifies Hazard Communication Standard


[author: Mari Spears]

This past spring, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) modified its Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) to conform to the United Nations' Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).  Promulgated in 1983, the HCS requires chemical manufacturers and importers to provide chemical hazard information to downstream employers and employees by putting labels on containers and preparing safety data sheets (SDS).  A number of countries have similar laws requiring dissemination of information about hazardous chemicals to persons who are potentially exposed to these chemicals during production, transportation, use and disposal.  In June 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development issued a mandate calling for the development of a globally harmonized chemical classification and labeling system.  The GHS, as it was popularly named, was formally adopted by the United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods and the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals in December 2002.  Countries were then encouraged to implement the GHS as soon as possible.  After comment and rulemaking, OSHA modified the HCS to make it consistent with the GHS.  The new HCS includes revised criteria for classification of chemical hazards, revised labeling provisions, a specified format for safety data sheets and requirements for employee training on labels and safety data sheets.


(1) Classification of Chemical Hazards: The revised HCS allows the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the National Toxicology Program classifications to be used to determine whether a chemical should be classified as a carcinogen.


(2) Standardized Format for Labels: The older version of the HCS required labels on hazardous chemical containers, but it did not require a standardized format or design element for labels.  OSHA changed the HCS requirements for labels to comply with the GHS-specific requirements that the labels include four standardized elements:

  • Signal Word: The new HCS requires the use of the signal words “DANGER” or “WARNING” on labels depending on the hazard classification of the substance at issue.
  • Hazard Statement: The new HCS replaces the old performance-oriented requirement of “appropriate hazard warnings” on labels with a requirement for specific hazard statements on labels.  The hazard statement will describe the hazards associated with a chemical and is prescribed based on the hazard classification of the chemical.
  • Pictogram:  The new HCS requires the use of one of eight pictograms (e.g., skull and crossbones).  All pictograms are required to have a red border.  Additionally, the new HCS prohibits the use of blank diamonds on the label.
  • Precautionary Statement: The revised HCS replaces the performance-oriented requirement of “appropriate hazard warnings” on labels with a requirement for a specific precautionary statement on labels depending on the classification of the chemical. The precautionary statement will describe the recommended measures that should be taken to protect against hazardous exposures, or improper storage or handling of a chemical. 

(3) Safety Data Sheets: The new HCS adopted a standardized format for the SDS patterned after the GHS. The older version of the HCS did not require a standardized format for the SDS, although it required chemical manufacturers and importers to provide certain information regarding the chemical, including the identity, characteristics, hazards, primary routes of entry, etc.


(4) Training:  Under the old HCS, employers were required to train their employees on the labels and SDS systems used in a workplace, the hazards of chemicals and protective measures.  The new rule includes a minor revision requiring employers to train employees on the new label elements and SDS format. 


The newly modified HCS became effective on May 25, 2012.



DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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