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Archived: Employers Face Deadline on Chemical Standards Training

Posted on November 18, 2013

Editor’s Note – Wendy Rosati is Consultant, Injury Prevention & Worksite Wellness, for A.I.M. Mutual Insurance Company in Burlington.

Manufacturers and other employers who use chemicals in the workplace have until December 1 to train employees about a significant revision by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to its hazard communication standard.

HazardCommOSHA’s changes to the standard will align it with the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS).  The shift marks one of the agency’s most significant rulemaking efforts in more than a decade.

The rule, released on March 26, 2012, is expected to affect more than five million businesses across the country. An estimated 40 million employees will need to be re-trained on hazard communication.

The UN maintains that aligning U.S. hazard communication standards with those of the rest of the world will eliminate what has been a patchwork system and establish in its place a common process for identifying hazardous materials and warning users.  Supporters say that adoption of the GHS classification system will streamline international shipments and sales of chemical products, ensure that people worldwide receive the same basic standards of protection when using products, facilitate training and literacy concerns, decrease supplier costs and improve overall workplace injury rates.

GHS has specific criteria for the classification of chemicals, including standardized language for health, physical and environmental categories and chemical mixtures. New labeling provisions include nine pictograms, which include a symbol and graphical elements, such as borders and background colors.

Eight of the nine pictograms will be regulated by OSHA. The signal words “DANGER” or “WARNING” will be required on labels, dependent on hazard severity. Labels will also require hazard and precautionary statements, which describe the chemical hazards and recommended measures to protect against exposures.

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are now referred to as Safety Data Sheets (SDS) under the revised standard. Safety Data Sheets have 16 sections, and new requirements will include identification, hazard identification, composition and ingredient information, first aid and fire-fighting and accidental release measures, handling and storage, exposure controls, personal protection, physical and chemical properties, stability and reactivity, toxicological information, the date of preparation and last revision.

Every employer will be required to re-train their employees on the elements of the new standard.  By December 1, affected employers are required to provide employees awareness training, which includes GHS formatting.

Chemical manufacturers and distributors assume significant workload under the new standard, and must gather relevant chemical data and review to determine hazards using GHS criteria, produce/author/re-author safety data sheets and labels in GHS format, and ensure that SDS and labels address specific standards of each country to which they ship by June 1, 2015.

By December 1, 2015, distributors must send only updated SDS and labels. By June 2016, employers must have compared old safety data sheets to new ones, noted any new hazards requiring new employee safety training, secured missing SDS sheets and archived older ones, updated written hazard communication programs, relabeled secondary containers using GHS format, and trained employees on new hazards.

AIM members with questions about the new standards may email Bob Paine (, Senior Vice President of Membership.