OSHA HazCom Standard Changes Are Coming – Are You Ready?

OSHA has indicated it intends to update its Hazard Communication Standard (HazCom or HCS) – which is currently aligned with GHS Revision 3 – to incorporate provisions of the UN’s GHS Revision 7 in 2019. OSHA has tentatively planned to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to revise the HazCom Standard in February, 2019, and recently confirmed its regulatory plans while speaking at the fall 2018 meeting of the Society for Chemical Hazard Communication (SCHC) on September 25.

While the specific forthcoming changes to the standard are unknown at this time, there are a number of noteworthy modifications in Revision 7 that EHS professionals should be aware of. A primary tenet of the GHS is that nations and agencies have the flexibility to pick and choose which elements of the GHS to adopt. This means OSHA does not have to adopt all of Revision 7, but instead can select changes that work within the scope of its regulatory oversight for hazardous chemicals in the US.

Potential changes that the alignment with Revision 7 might bring include:

• Updated health hazard class definitions. Several definitions in Revision 7 have been slightly updated to provide additional clarity, including those for skin corrosion, skin irritation, serious eye damage, eye irritation, dermal corrosion, dermal irritation, respiratory sensitizer, specific target organ toxicity, reproductive toxicity, and carcinogenicity.

• Modified criteria for the categorization of flammable gases. Prior to Revision 7, there was ambiguity regarding how to apply categories provided in the flammable gas chapter. To eradicate the ambiguity regarding how to apply categories provided in the flammable gas chapter, both pyrophoric and chemically unstable gases will now always be classified in Category 1A, and hazardous states for these gases have been assigned.

• Revised precautionary statements in Annex 3. A new precautionary statement now exists for some explosives, instructing users to refer to the chemical manufacturer/supplier for information on its disposal, recovery, or recycling.

In addition to the Revision 7 changes above, it’s also important for EHS professionals to be familiar with the updates the UN has made to the editions published between Revision 3 and Revision 7. These help provide perspective on the types of changes the UN makes on its two-year update intervals, as well as insight into the cumulative updates incorporated into the latest edition. OSHA may consider incorporating some of these changes when they revise the HazCom Standard next.

A sampling of updates from Revisions 4 through 6 includes:

• New hazard categories for chemically unstable gases and non-flammable aerosols (Revision 4)
• Further clarification of criteria to avoid differences in the interpretation of precautionary statements (Revision 4)
• Addition of a new test method for oxidizing solids (Revision 5)
• Clarification of hazard classification criteria for skin corrosion/irritation, severe eye damage/irritation, and aerosols (Revision 5)
• Revised/simplified classification & labelling summary tables (Revision 5)
• New codification system for hazard pictograms (Revision 5)
• New hazard class for desensitized explosives (Revision 6)
• New hazard category for pyrophoric gases (Revision 6)
• Additional information to be included in Section 9 of safety data sheets (SDSs) (Revision 6)

What You Can Do Now

So what can you do to prepare for these changes? While it’s important to be aware of OSHA’s Revision 7 alignment plans, HazCom 2012 continues to remain the law until otherwise communicated by the agency. OSHA recently announced that HazCom is once again its second most cited standard when speaking about its most frequent violations at the 2018 National Safety Council Congress and Expo, so there continue to be significant compliance gaps when it comes to current HazCom requirements.

Businesses covered by HazCom 2012 should use this time to ensure they’re fully compliant with current requirements. This will to help ease the transition when the new changes from Revision 7 are introduced.

A quick checklist of these HazCom compliance considerations includes:

• Proper chemical hazard classifications
• Use of 16-section, GHS-aligned HazCom 2012 SDSs
• If you import chemicals from outside of the country, ensure supplier information includes US company, with US address and phone number – otherwise, you may need to author new SDSs (read OSHA’s new letter of interpretation on this)
• Up-to-date workplace- and inventory-specific SDS library
• Employee right-to-know access to inventory of SDSs
• Accurate and current chemical inventory list
• Compliant manufacturer shipped labels and employer workplace labels
• Site-specific HazCom written plan made accessible to employees
• Completed employee training on HazCom 2012, SDSs, labels, all chemical hazards present in the work environment and the workplace-specific written HazCom plan
• Evidence that employees understood the training, and that it is reflective of current chemical hazards and hazard communication management practices
• Functional infrastructure (SDS/chemical management software, chemical labeling systems, safety equipment, etc.) and processes for meeting HazCom compliance obligations

Understanding and preparing today for the changes to come, and identifying gaps in compliance will help ensure a smoother transition when the Revision 7 changes are introduced. By taking a few measured steps now, EHS professionals can not only prepare for what’s to come, but also work towards improving hazard communication management now.

By Phil N. Molé, EHS & Sustainability Expert, VelocityEHS


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