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OSHA Revises HazCom Standard to Align with GHS

March 26, 2012 | Leave a Comment

On March 20, 2012, OSHA filed a final rule with the Federal Register revising the manner in which employers are required to communicate chemical hazards to their employees. The rule, which will take effect in stages through 2016, was written to align the American system with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, commonly referred to as GHS. The new rule adjusts the way chemical labels and material safety data sheets (which will be referred to simply as safety data sheets moving forward) are written to better communicate hazards to employees. These changes are expected to affect 40 million workers at 5 million American workplaces


The new HCS still requires chemical manufacturers and importers to evaluate the chemicals they produce or import and provide hazard information to employers and workers by putting labels on containers and preparing safety data sheets.

However, the old standard allowed chemical manufacturers and importers to convey hazard information on labels and material safety data sheets in whatever format they chose. The modified standard provides a single set of harmonized criteria for classifying chemicals according to their health and physical hazards and specifies hazard communication elements for labeling and safety data sheets.

Major changes include:

Hazard classification: Chemical manufacturers and importers are required to determine the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import. Hazard classification under the new, updated standard provides specific criteria to address health and physical hazards as well as classification of chemical mixtures.

Labels: Chemical manufacturers and importers must provide a label that includes a signal word, pictogram, hazard statement, and precautionary statement for each hazard class and category.

Safety Data Sheets: The new format requires 16 specific sections, ensuring consistency in presentation of important protection information.

Information and training: To facilitate understanding of the new system, the new standard requires that workers be trained by Dec. 1, 2013, on the new label elements and safety data sheet format, in addition to the current training requirements.

OSHA made limited changes to the proposed rule it had issued previously. Changes related to labeling include flexibility regarding required statements to allow label preparers to consolidate or eliminate inappropriate or redundant statements. The final rule also allows for longer deadlines for full implementation.


Responsibilities under the revised HCS will depend on whether an organization is a chemical user or a chemical producer.

Chemical users must continue to update safety data sheets when new ones become available, provide training on the new label elements and update hazard communication programs if new hazards are identified.

Chemical producers must review hazard information for all chemicals produced or imported, classify chemicals according to the new classification criteria and update labels and safety data sheets.




Completion Date



Dec. 1, 2013

Train employees on the new label elements and SDS format.


June 1, 2015


Dec. 1, 2015

Comply with all modified provisions of this final rule, except: 

Distributors may ship products labeled by manufacturers under the old system until Dec. 1, 2015.

Chemical manufacturers, importers, distributors and employers

June 1, 2016

Update alternative workplace labeling and hazard communication program as necessary, and provide additional employee training for newly identified physical or health hazards.


Transition Period

Comply with either 29 CFR 1910.1200 (the final standard), or the current standard, or both.

All chemical manufacturers, importers, distributors and employers


Need for Standard Regulations

Prior to the adoption of the GHS by the United Nations in 2003, different countries had many different regulatory systems related to hazard communications. There are a number of disadvantages to these varying standards, including:

  • Diverse and conflicting requirements created confusion for employers required to provide hazard information to employees;
  • Labels and safety data sheets may have included symbols and hazard statements that were unfamiliar to readers or not well understood; and
  • Containers may have been labeled with such a large volume of information that important statements were not easily recognized.

Development of multiple sets of labels and safety data sheets was a major compliance burden for chemical manufacturers, distributors, and transporters involved in international trade. Small businesses had particular difficulty in coping with the complexities and costs involved.

Adoption of the GHS

As a result of the issues outlined above, and in recognition of the extensive international trade in chemicals, there has been a long-standing effort to harmonize these requirements and develop a system that can be used around the world. In 2003, the United Nations adopted the GHS. The new system is being implemented throughout the world by countries including Canada, the European Union, China, Australia and Japan.

In the United States, the adoption of the GHS followed this timeline:

  • September 2009: OSHA published a proposed rulemaking on to align OSHA’s HCS with the GHS.
  • March 2010: OSHA held public hearings regarding the proposal.
  • Oct. 25, 2011: After extensive notice and comment, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) received the final rule on for a 90-day review.
  • Jan. 24, 2012: The 90-day deadline expired and the OMB extended the review of the final rule until further notice.
  • March 20, 2012: The final rule was filed with the Office of the Federal Register for publication on March 26, 2012.

The Department of Transportation (DOT), Environmental Protection Agency, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission actively participated in developing the GHS. DOT has already modified its requirements for classification and labeling to make them consistent with United Nations transport requirements and the new globally harmonized system.


Over five million workplaces and over 40 million workers will be affected by the changes to the HCS. OSHA estimates the revised standard will prevent 43 fatalities and 521 injuries and illnesses annually.

The annualized monetized benefits associated with the final rule’s reductions in safety and health risks are an estimated $250 million a year. OSHA estimates additional annualized benefits of $507 million a year from cost reductions and productivity improvements. OSHA also anticipates that the final rule will generate substantial savings from simplified hazard communication training and from expanded opportunities for international trade due to a reduction in trade barriers.

The estimated cost of the final rule is $201 million annually. The costs includes reclassification of all chemicals, additional training of workers on the new labeling system and familiarization with the modified HCS standard.

More information

More information on the hazard communication standard, including the link to the Federal Register notice, can be found on OSHA’s hazard communication safety and health topics page at

Posted in Benefits, Blog, Legislative Alerts, OSHA

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