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LEGAL: Get ready for new HazComm deadline: Dec. 1

Jeff Jones
Thursday, Sep 5, 2013

By Dec. 1, U.S. employers must be ready to comply with new hazard communications (“HazComm”) standards. The new rules bring the United States into alignment with other countries that have signed onto the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of classification and labeling of chemicals. They replace and expand upon OSHA’s current hazard communication standard, first adopted in 1983, that required employers to alert workers to potentially dangerous chemicals and other substances to which they could be exposed in the workplace.

The new GHS still requires chemical manufacturers and importers to evaluate the chemicals they produce, import or use, and provide hazard information to employers and workers by putting labels on containers and preparing safety data sheets. The old OSHA standard allowed chemical manufacturers and importers to convey hazard information on labels and material safety data sheets in a format of their choosing. The new GHS rules mandate standardized criteria for classifying chemicals according to their health and physical hazards and specify hazard communication elements for labeling and safety data sheets.

Think you know a chemical when you see one? You might be surprised. Ammonia and sulphuric acid – those are easy. How about wood? Wood dust is a hazardous substance classified under the OSHA HazComm standard. Several years ago, Britain determined that workers exposed to dust from cherry wood experienced a slightly higher-than-average incidence of cancer, which led to a GHS labeling requirement. The message? Take another look at those 2-by-4’s. Your workplace may be chock-full of materials requiring labels under the new standards.

The new standard covers more than 43 million workers who produce or handle hazardous chemicals in more than five million workplaces across the United States. Phased implementation begins now, and when fully implemented, the new rules will require standardized labeling, including the use of symbols, designed to be understood even by workers with low and limited literacy. Standardized Safety Data Sheets (“SDS”) will replace Material Safety Data Sheets (“MSDS”) that have been in use for the past 20 years. OSHA anticipates that standardization will result in cost savings to American businesses and reduce trade barriers by harmonizing the U.S. with systems around the world.

All employers need to be aware of new training requirements. Employers could satisfy the current HazComm standard with one-time training, usually conducted at new employee orientation. To comply with the new standard, all employers who produce or use chemicals in the workplace must train all workers to recognize the new labels and symbols, and to use the safety data sheets, by Dec. 1. Employers will be required to comply with all aspects of the new standard by June 1, 2016.
It’s not too early to identify what will be required in your workplace. Existing HazComm materials will help you choose the correct labeling and SDS for potentially hazardous materials, update labeling, and plan and schedule training sessions.

Jeffrey G. Jones is a regional managing member for Wimberly Lawson Wright Daves & Jones PLLC. He can be reached at

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