In March, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration adopted changes to its hazard communication safety standard. The changes implement adoption of Global Harmonization Standards (GHS) intended to internationally standardize hazard communication information. The first stage in these new requirements takes effect a little over a year from now.
As of December 1, 2013, employers must train employees on how to read GHS formatted labels and safety data sheets (the new rules drop "material" from the previous MSDS acronym. The sheets are now referred to as "SDS"). This training should be relatively easy to accomplish, but employers need to document that it took place and maintain such documentation as part of its HazCom plan and records. Employers that fail to meet this requirement will be subject to citations and penalties beginning next December.
The other new HazCom requirements take effect in 2015 and 2016. These include revisions to warning labels and SDSs to meet the GHS standard, and additional employee training on new hazards identified under the GHS disclosures. The new standards also mandate new quantitative measures of toxicity, disclosure of ecological hazards from certain substances and transportation information.
Although employers have a year to meet the first part of this standard, they should begin planning now to assure compliance by the regulatory deadlines. Chemical manufacturers and distributors will need to pay particular attention to how the GHS requirements change HazCom information currently provided to end users.