OSHA’s Hazard Communication/Globally Harmonized System proposed rule has been cleared by the Office of Management and Budget, paving the way for the agency to publish it for public comment. The proposed rule has been in the works for several years and the Obama Administration has made finalizing it a priority. If finalized, the proposed rule could significantly change the labels and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) that currently appear and accompany hazardous chemicals in the workplace.

OSHA’s existing Hazard Communication rule (“Haz Com”) requires chemical manufacturers and importers to analyze the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import, and prepare labels and MSDSs to inform downstream users of the hazards and needed protective measures. Haz Com also contains the core OSHA training requirements for informing employees about chemical hazards in the work environment.

Other countries also have developed labeling and MSDS requirements. While these rules are often similar to Haz Com, they differ in various ways, including the specificity of information required to be conveyed to end users. The differing requirements can cause confusion for chemical manufacturers, importers, and employers and employees.

As a result, in 2003 the United Nations adopted the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, which standardizes and harmonizes these requirements. Countries are now adopting the Globally Harmonized System and OSHA, through this proposed rule, is looking to do the same.

Many employers are in favor of the rulemaking, seeing it as an opportunity to facilitate international trade and improve the effectiveness of communicating hazard information to employees. Others have raised concerns about having to re-learn a “new” Haz Com rule when many have grown accustomed to complying with the existing requirements.  For its part, OSHA has claimed that adoption of the Globally Harmonized System will:

  • Provide consistent information and definitions for hazardous chemicals;
  • Address stakeholder concerns regarding the need for a standardized format for MSDSs; and
  • Increase understanding of hazardous chemicals by using standardized pictograms and harmonized hazard statements.

We will continue to monitor the status of the proposal and pass along any further updates.