Hazard Communication: Updates on the GHS Transition

In 2012, OSHA revised the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS 2012) to align with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS).  Since then, manufacturers and importers of hazardous materials have been working to meet the June 1, 2015 deadline to comply with the new product labeling and Safety Data Sheet (SDS) requirements.  Many will not meet this deadline.  In a recent memorandum to Regional Administrators, OSHA noted that they have received an overwhelming number of additional questions and requests for clarification since February 2015 from manufacturers, importers and distributors.  Many have told OSHA that they cannot meet the June 1 deadline as they have not received classification information from their upstream supplier(s) on whom they rely for classification of their product(s).

In response, OSHA is offering some enforcement leeway for companies that can provide “persuasive documentation” showing that they have made reasonable efforts to obtain the necessary information from upstream suppliers through direct oral and written communication, and have attempted to find hazard information from alternative sources.   If an OSHA inspector finds that a company has exercised “reasonable diligence” and “good faith efforts” to classify their chemical mixtures, a three to six month extension to the June 1 deadline will be considered.  Upon request from OSHA, a company must provide documentation of its “substantive efforts” to:

  • Obtain classification information and SDSs from upstream supplier(s);
  • Find hazard information from alternative sources (e.g., chemical registries); and,
  • Classify the data themselves.

OSHA recognizes that due to this situation, distributors may not be able to meet their December 1, 2015 deadline to stop shipping products that do not comply with OSHA’s new SDS and labeling requirements.  Again, on a case-by-case basis, OSHA inspectors will determine whether distributors have demonstrated “reasonable diligence” and “good faith efforts” to comply with the new Hazard Communication Standard.

What does this mean for employers who use hazardous chemicals?  OSHA has stated that they will not cite an employer that has not received an updated SDS or product label from a manufacturer, importer or distributor.  Once employers receive an HCS 2012 compliant SDS, they must maintain them.  The same holds true for HCS 2012 compliant labels which must be either maintained on the chemical container or must follow the workplace labeling requirements of the standard.



OSHA’s Hazard Communication Website

OSHA’s February 9, 2015, Enforcement Guidance Memorandum

OSHA’s May 29, 2015, Interim Enforcement Guidance Memorandum



Michael L. Howe, CIH