The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a new Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) that is designed to enhance employee health and safety by aligning the classification and labeling of chemicals in the United States with international standards (as established by the United Nations' Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS)). As explained in more detail below, the first phase of compliance requires employers to provide training to employees, by December 1, 2013, with respect to the new HCS label elements and Safety Data Sheet formats. The new HCS and related training requirement apply to all private sector employers, regardless of size or industry, with any hazardous chemicals in their workplaces.
The new HCS requirements address the following issues:
The new HCS requirements will be phased in over a period of time, as follows:
Between now and the June 1, 2015 full compliance deadline (the "transition period"), employers have the option to comply with either the new or old HCS, or both. As a practical matter, this means that an employer can continue to use the outgoing MSDS form, elect to use the new SDS form, or do both, during the transition period.
As an aside, some have questioned the wisdom of requiring employers to provide employee training as referenced above by December 1 of this year when actual use of the new labels and SDS format is not required until 2015. OSHA has explained its rationale by noting that providing such training now will benefit employees, and is necessary, because GHS-compliant labels and SDSs are already present to a certain extent in the U.S. workplace (due to voluntary use by some manufacturers), and such trend is expected to continue and increase during the transition period.