OSHA Takes the “M” Out of MSDS and Changes Chemical Labeling Requirements

by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP

In 2012, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) revised the Hazard Communication System (“HCS”) and other regulations to conform them to the United Nations Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (“GHS”). Fed. Reg. Vol. 77, No. 58, p. 17573 et seq. (5/15/12). By Dec. 1, 2013, employers must have trained their workers on new chemical labeling requirements and the new format for Safety Data Sheets (formerly known as MSDSs).

OHSA’s present HCS requires chemical manufacturers and importers to evaluate and determine whether their chemicals are hazardous by reviewing the available scientific evidence concerning such hazards. If a chemical has one or more hazards, the manufacturer or importer must ensure that each container leaving its workplace is labeled, tagged, or marked with prescribed information including appropriate hazard warnings. The manufacturer or importer must also prepare a material safety data sheet (“MSDS”) that provides information about the chemical including its physical and chemical characteristics and its hazards, and ensure that the MSDS is provided to distributors and employers. Employers are required to have a written communication program and to ensure that:

  • Each container of hazardous chemicals in the workplace is appropriately labeled, tagged, or marked;
  • Copies of the MSDS are readily accessible to employees in the workplace; and
  • Employees receive proper training about detection of the presence or release of a hazardous chemical, its physical and health hazards, and measures to protect themselves from the hazards.

The new SDS format has 16 subject areas instead of eight and organizes the areas to include the greatest worker concerns early in the document:

  • Identification
  • Hazard(s) identification
  • Composition/information on ingredients
  • First-aid measures
  • Fire-fighting measures
  • Accidental release measures
  • Handling and storage
  • Exposure controls/personal protection
  • Physical and chemical properties
  • Stability and reactivity
  • Toxicological information
  • Ecological information
  • Disposal considerations
  • Transport information
  • Regulatory information
  • Other information

The GHS also uses a slightly different hazard classification system, which has been adopted into the revised HCS. A chemical manufacturer, importer, or distributor must ensure that each container of hazardous chemicals leaving the workplace is labeled, tagged, or marked with “core information,” including a product identifier, a signal word such as DANGER or CAUTION, a pictogram with red borders, and a hazard statement.

In addition, a GHS label must contain one or more precautionary statements. A precautionary statement is more than a mere warning. It describes recommended storage or handling measures that should be taken to minimize or prevent adverse effects resulting from exposure to a hazardous chemical. The GHS provides precautionary statements of four types (prevention, response, storage, and disposal) and provides examples of their use, but allows flexibility for the label to provide supplemental information. Label information must be in English, but other languages may also be included if appropriate.

In general, the signal words, hazard statements, and precautionary statements for the specific chemicals, although reworded, are similar in meaning to those previously used to implement the HCS but some of the pictograms are different (for example, an exclamation point within the red diamond indicates an irritant, dermal sensitizer, or material with a harmful level of acute toxicity, or material causing narcotic effects.)

During the transition periods while companies implement the revised HCS, chemical manufacturers, importers, distributors, and employers may comply with the present HCS, revised as of Oct. 1, 2011, the current version of the GHS, or both. Employers should make note of a handful of key transition dates:

Dec. 1, 2013 Employers must have trained employees regarding the new label elements and Safety Data Sheets (“SDS”) format.
June 1, 2015 Chemical manufacturers, importers, distributors, and employers are to be in compliance with all modified GHS provisions
Dec. 1, 2015 Distributors shall not ship after this date any containers unless the label complies with GHS.
June 1, 2016 All employers must have updated their HCS and provided additional employee training for newly identified physical or health hazards.


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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