Regulatory Alert: Proposed Update to OSHA Hazard Communication Standard

25 Mar
Hazard Communication Standard


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On February 16, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a proposed rule to update the agency’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) to align with updates to the United Nations (UN) Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling Chemicals (GHS), as well as those of Canada and other U.S. agencies.

According to OSHA, the agency “expects the proposed updates to the HCS will increase worker protections and reduce the incidence of chemical-related occupational illnesses and injuries by further improving the information on labels and safety data sheets (SDS) for hazardous chemicals.”


The HCS was initially adopted by OSHA in 1983 to create a standardized approach for communicating about workplace hazards associated with hazardous chemical exposures. The standard requires chemical manufacturers and importers to classify the hazards of chemicals produced and/or imported to the U.S. and to communicate to employees about these chemicals through a hazard communication program, including labels and other forms of warning, SDS, and training.

Like HCS, the GHS is an international standard that was created as a “universally harmonized approach” to classifying chemicals and communicating hazard information. Warning pictograms that can be understood in any language are a key component of the GHS, in addition to universal standards for hazard testing criteria and SDS. The UN updates the GHS every two years, with the most recent updates in 2019 with Revision 8.

OSHA’s proposed HCS updates are the agency’s first since 2012 and are intended to address issues that have emerged since 2012, align with GHS Revision 7 and some provisions from GHS Revision 8, and enhance cooperation with international trading partners. Correspondingly, as part of OSHA’s proposed rule, the agency is evaluating whether it should establish a schedule for updating the HCS to coincide with GHS updates or maintain the status quo of updating when there are substantial changes to GHS requirements.

Major Proposed Changes

The following proposed modifications to the HCS are intended to improve hazard communication so employees are more aware of the hazards associated with potential chemical exposure, while creating additional clarity and flexibility in requirements:

  • Flexibility for bulk shipments of hazardous chemicals, including allowing labels to be included on immediate containers or with shipping papers, bills of landing (BOLs), or other electronic means that are immediately available to workers in printed form on the receiving end of the shipment.
  • Options for labeling small containers when it is not feasible to use traditional pull-out labels, fold-back labels, or tags containing full information. This includes using just the product identifier, pictogram, signal word, chemical manufacturer’s name/phone number, and statement that full information is provided on the immediate outer package for containers less than or equal to 100 ml capacity. For those with a capacity of 3 ml or less, only the product identifier needs to be displayed.
  • New requirements for updating labels on individual containers that have been released for shipment but are waiting future distribution. These shipments would not need to be relabeled; however, the chemical manufacturer/importer would need to provide the updated label for each individual container with each shipment.
  • Updates to precautionary statements in every hazard class and category. OSHA is also proposing certain statements related to medical response be prioritized.
  • Withholding of a chemical’s concentration range as a trade secret. In addition, OSHA is proposing to allow the use of prescriptive concentration ranges rather than actual concentration/concentration ranges (consistent with those required by Canada) when these are deemed trade secrets.
  • New required information on SDS, including U.S. address/phone in Section 1, hazards associated with change in chemical’s physical form, identification of hazards that result from a chemical reaction, more information on physical and chemical properties (e.g., particle size), and more information on interactive effects.

Next Steps

OSHA is currently seeking public comment on the HCS proposed updates through April 19, 2021.

While many of OSHA’s proposed changes will provide additional flexibility to chemical manufacturers and importers, as well as alignment with GHS and international trading partners, the regulatory burden is not insignificant to those impacted. The fundamental structure of the HCS is not changing; however, the revisions will require companies to update SDS, labels, and training. All of this will take appropriate and resources to meet deadlines once any proposed updates are finalized.

View the Federal Register notice.

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