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Modifications of the Hazard Communication Standard to Global Harmonization System (GHS)

Q. What is the Globally Harmonized System?
A. The Globally Harmonized System (GHS) is an international approach to hazard communication, providing agreed criteria for classification of chemical hazards, and a standardized approach to label elements and safety data sheets. The GHS was negotiated in a multi-year process by hazard communication experts from many different countries, international organizations, and stakeholder groups. It is based on major existing systems around the world, including OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard and the chemical classification and labeling systems of other US agencies.
The result of this negotiation process is the United Nations' document entitled "Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals," commonly referred to as The Purple Book. This document provides harmonized classification criteria for health, physical, and environmental hazards of chemicals. It also includes standardized label elements that are assigned to these hazard classes and categories, and provide the appropriate signal words, pictograms, and hazard and precautionary statements to convey the hazards to users. A standardized order of information for safety data sheets is also provided. These recommendations can be used by regulatory authorities such as OSHA to establish mandatory requirements for hazard communication, but do not constitute a model regulation.

Q. Why did OSHA decide to modify the Hazard Communication Standard to adopt the GHS?
A. OSHA has modified the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) to adopt the GHS to improve safety and health of workers through more effective communications on chemical hazards. Since it was first promulgated in 1983, the HCS has provided employers and employees extensive information about the chemicals in their workplaces. The original standard is performance-oriented, allowing chemical manufacturers and importers to convey information on labels and material safety data sheets in whatever format they choose. While the available information has been helpful in improving employee safety and health, a more standardized approach to classifying the hazards and conveying the information will be more effective, and provide further improvements in American workplaces. The GHS provides such a standardized approach, including detailed criteria for determining what hazardous effects a chemical poses, as well as standardized label elements assigned by hazard class and category. This will enhance both employer and worker comprehension of the hazards, which will help to ensure appropriate handling and safe use of workplace chemicals. In addition, the safety data sheet requirements establish an order of information that is standardized. The harmonized format of the safety data sheets will enable employers, workers, health professionals, and emergency responders to access the information more efficiently and effectively, thus increasing their utility.
Adoption of the GHS in the US and around the world will also help to improve information received from other countries-since the US is both a major importer and exporter of chemicals, American workers often see labels and safety data sheets from other countries. The diverse and sometimes conflicting national and international requirements can create confusion among those who seek to use hazard information effectively. For example, labels and safety data sheets may include symbols and hazard statements that are unfamiliar to readers or not well understood. Containers may be labeled with such a large volume of information that important statements are not easily recognized. Given the differences in hazard classification criteria, labels may also be incorrect when used in other countries. If countries around the world adopt the GHS, these problems will be minimized, and chemicals crossing borders will have consistent information, thus improving communication globally.

Q. What is the phase-in period in the revised Hazard Communication Standard?
A. The table below summarizes the phase-in dates required under the revised Hazard Communication Standard (HCS):

Q. Why must training be conducted prior to the compliance effective date?
A. OSHA is requiring that employees are trained on the new label elements (e.g., pictograms and signal words) and SDS format by December 2013, while full compliance with the final rule will begin in 2015. While many countries are in various stages of implementing the GHS, OSHA believes that it is possible that American workplaces may begin to receive labels and SDSs that are consistent with the GHS shortly after publication. Thus, making it important to ensure that when employees begin to see the new labels and SDSs in their workplaces, they will be familiar with them, understand how to use them, and access the information effectively.

Q. What are the major changes to the Hazard Communication Standard?
A. The three major areas of change are in hazard classification, labels, and safety data sheets.

  • Hazard classification: The definitions of hazard have been changed to provide specific criteria for classification of health and physical hazards, as well as classification of mixtures. These specific criteria will help to ensure that evaluations of hazardous effects are consistent across manufacturers, and that labels and safety data sheets are more accurate as a result.
  • Labels: Chemical manufacturers and importers will be required to provide a label that includes a harmonized signal word, pictogram, and hazard statement for each hazard class and category. Precautionary statements must also be provided.
  • Safety Data Sheets: Will now have a specified 16-section format.

The GHS does not include harmonized training provisions, but recognizes that training is essential to an effective hazard communication approach. The revised Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires that workers be re- trained within two years of the publication of the final rule to facilitate recognition and understanding of the new labels and safety data sheets. For a side-by-side comparison of the current HCS and the final revised HCS please see OSHA's hazard communication safety and health topics webpage at: http://www.osha.gov/dsg/hazcom/index.html

Q. What Hazard Communication Standard provisions are unchanged in the revised HCS?
A. The revised Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) is a modification to the existing standard. The parts of the standard that did not relate to the GHS (such as the basic framework, scope, and exemptions) remained largely unchanged. There have been some modifications to terminology in order to align the revised HCS with language used in the GHS. For example, the term "hazard determination" has been changed to "hazard classification" and "material safety data sheet" was changed to "safety data sheet." OSHA stakeholders commented on this approach and found it to be appropriate.

Q. How will chemical hazard evaluation change under the revised Hazard Communication Standard?
A. Under both the current Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) and the revised HCS, an evaluation of chemical hazards must be performed considering the available scientific evidence concerning such hazards. Under the current HCS, the hazard determination provisions have definitions of hazard and the evaluator determines whether or not the data on a chemical meet those definitions. It is a performance-oriented approach that provides parameters for the evaluation, but not specific, detailed criteria. The hazard classification approach in the revised HCS is quite different. The revised HCS has specific criteria for each health and physical hazard, along with detailed instructions for hazard evaluation and determinations as to whether mixtures or substances are covered. It also establishes both hazard classes and hazard categories-for most of the effects; the classes are divided into categories that reflect the relative severity of the effect. The current HCS does not include categories for most of the health hazards covered, so this new approach provides additional information that can be related to the appropriate response to address the hazard. OSHA has included the general provisions for hazard classification in paragraph (d) of the revised rule, and added extensive appendixes (Appendixes A and B) that address the criteria for each health or physical effect.

Q. How will labels change under the revised Hazard Communication Standard?
A. Under the current Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), the label preparer must provide the identity of the chemical, and the appropriate hazard warnings. This may be done in a variety of ways, and the method to convey the information is left to the preparer. Under the revised HCS, once the hazard classification is completed, the standard specifies what information is to be provided for each hazard class and category. Labels will require the following elements:

  • Pictogram: a symbol plus other graphic elements, such as a border, background pattern, or color that is intended to convey specific information about the hazards of a chemical. Each pictogram consists of a different symbol on a white background within a red square frame set on a point (i.e. a red diamond). There are nine pictograms under the GHS. However, only eight pictograms are required under the HCS.
  • Signal words: a single word used to indicate the relative level of severity of hazard and alert the reader to a potential hazard on the label. The signal words used are "danger" and "warning." "Danger" is used for the more severe hazards, while "warning" is used for less severe hazards.
  • Hazard Statement: a statement assigned to a hazard class and category that describes the nature of the hazard(s) of a chemical, including, where appropriate, the degree of hazard.
  • Precautionary Statement: a phrase that describes recommended measures to be taken to minimize or prevent adverse effects resulting from exposure to a hazardous chemical, or improper storage or handling of a hazardous chemical.

Q. What pictograms are required in the revised Hazard Communication Standard? What hazard does each identify?
A. There are nine pictograms under the GHS to convey the health, physical and environmental hazards. The final Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires eight of these pictograms, the exception being the environmental pictogram, as environmental hazards are not within OSHA's jurisdiction. The hazard pictograms and their corresponding hazards are shown below.

Q. Will OSHA allow blank red borders?
A. The revised Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires that all red borders printed on the label have a symbol printed inside it. If OSHA were to allow blank red borders, workers may be confused about what they mean and concerned that some information is missing. OSHA has determined that prohibiting the use of blank red borders on labels is necessary to provide the maximum recognition and impact of warning labels and to ensure that users do not get desensitized to the warnings placed on labels.

Q. When must label information be updated?
A. In the revised Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), OSHA is lifting the stay on enforcement regarding the provision to update labels when new information on hazards becomes available. Chemical manufacturers, importers, distributors, or employers who become newly aware of any significant information regarding the hazards of a chemical shall revise the labels for the chemical within six months of becoming aware of the new information, and shall ensure that labels on containers of hazardous chemicals shipped after that time contain the new information. If the chemical is not currently produced or imported, the chemical manufacturer, importer, distributor, or employer shall add the information to the label before the chemical is shipped or introduced into the workplace again.

Q. How will workplace labeling provisions be changing under the revised Hazard Communication Standard?
A. The current standard provides employers with flexibility regarding the type of system to be used in their workplaces and OSHA has retained that flexibility in the revised Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). Employers may choose to label workplace containers either with the same label that would be on shipped containers for the chemical under the revised rule, or with label alternatives that meet the requirements for the standard. Alternative labeling systems such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 704 Hazard Rating and the Hazardous Material Information System (HMIS) are permitted for workplace containers. However, the information supplied on these labels must be consistent with the revised HCS, e.g., no conflicting hazard warnings or pictograms.

Q. How is the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) changing under the revised Hazard Communication Standard?
A. The information required on the safety data sheet (SDS) will remain essentially the same as that in the current standard. The current Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) indicates what information has to be included on an SDS but does not specify a format for presentation or order of information. The revised HCS requires that the information on the SDS is presented using consistent headings in a specified sequence.

Paragraph (g) of the final rule indicates the headings of information to be included on the SDS and the order in which they are to be provided. In addition, Appendix D indicates what information is to be included under each heading. The SDS format is the same as the ANSI standard format which is widely used in the U.S. and is already familiar to many employees.
The format of the 16-section SDS should include the following sections:
Section 1. Identification
Section 2. Hazard(s) identification
Section 3. Composition/information on ingredients
Section 4. First-Aid measures
Section 5. Fire-fighting measures
Section 6. Accidental release measures
Section 7. Handling and storage
Section 8. Exposure controls/personal protection
Section 9. Physical and chemical properties
Section 10. Stability and reactivity
Section 11. Toxicological information
Section 12. Ecological information
Section 13. Disposal considerations
Section 14. Transport information
Section 15. Regulatory information
Section 16. Other information, including date of preparation or last revision
Sections 12-15 may be included in the SDS, but are not required by OSHA.

Q. How has OSHA addressed hazards covered under the current Hazard Communication Standard that have not been addressed by the GHS?
A. In the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), OSHA proposed to include hazards currently covered under the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) that have yet to be addressed by the GHS (OSHA provided several examples: simple asphyxiants, and combustible dust) in a separate category called "Unclassified Hazards". In response to comments from the regulated community, OSHA has renamed the category to "Hazards Not Otherwise Classified (HNOC)" to minimize confusion. In the final HCS, HNOC hazards will not be required to be disclosed on the label but will be required to be disclosed in section 2 of the Safety Data Sheet (SDS). This reflects how GHS recommends these hazards should be disclosed. Chemical manufacturers and importers are expected to assess these hazards when they are conducting their hazard evaluation of physical and health hazards. A new or separate evaluation is not required. Also in the final standard, in response to comments, OSHA has removed pyrophoric gases, simple asphyxiants, and combustible dust from the HNOC hazard category and has addressed these chemicals individually (see question below for more information on each hazard).

Q. How has OSHA addressed pyrophoric gases, simple asphyxiants, and combustible dust?
A. In the revised Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), OSHA has added pyrophoric gases, simple asphyxiants and combustible dust to the definition of "hazardous chemical". OSHA has also added definitions to the revised HCS for pyrophoric gases and simple asphyxiants, and provided guidance on how to define combustible dust for the purposes of complying with the HCS.

  • Pyrophoric gases: OSHA has retained the definition for pyrophoric gases from the current HCS. Pyrophoric gases must be addressed both on container labels and SDSs. OSHA has provided label elements for pyrophoric gases which include the signal word "danger" and the hazard statement "catches fire spontaneously if exposed to air".
  • Simple asphyxiants: OSHA has revised the definition of simple asphyxiants that was proposed in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) as a result of comments from the regulated community. In the final HCS, simple asphyxiants must be labeled where appropriate, and be addressed on SDSs. OSHA has provided label elements for simple asphyxiants which include the signal word "warning" and the hazard statement "may displace oxygen and cause rapid suffocation".
  • Combustible dust: OSHA has not provided a definition for combustible dust to the final HCS given ongoing activities in the specific rulemaking, as well as in the United Nations Sub-Committee of Experts on the GHS (UN/SCEGHS). However, guidance is being provided through existing documents, including the Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program Directive CPL 03-00-008, which includes an operative definition, as well as provides information about current responsibilities in this area. In addition, there are a number of voluntary industry consensus standards (particularly those of the NFPA) that address combustible dust.

In the final HCS, combustible dust hazards must be addressed on labels and SDSs. Label elements are provided for combustible dust in the final HCS and include the signal word "warning" and the hazard statement "May form combustible dust concentrations in the air".

For chemicals in a solid form that do not present a combustible dust hazard, but may form combustible dusts while being processed in normal downstream uses, paragraph (f)(4) of the HCS allows the chemical manufacturer some flexibility in labeling requirements. The manufacturer or importer to may transmit the label to the customer at the time of the initial shipment, but the label does not need to be included with subsequent shipments unless it changes. This provides the needed information to the downstream users on the potential hazards in the workplace, while acknowledging that the solid metal or other materials do not present the same hazards that are produced when these materials are processed under normal conditions of use.

Q. I understand that the United Nations revises the GHS every two years. How will OSHA manage and communicate changes to the Hazard Communication Standard?
A. It is expected that the GHS will be a living document and is expected to remain up-to-date and relevant; therefore further changes may be adopted on a two year cycle. Presently most of the recent updates have been clarification of text. However, OSHA anticipates that future updates of the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) may be necessary and can be done through various rulemaking options, including:
" Technical updates for minor terminology changes,
" Direct Final Rules for text clarification, and
" Notice and Comment rulemaking for more substantive or controversial updates such as additional criteria or changes in health or safety hazard classes or categories.