New Final Rule: What You Need to Know About OSHA HazCom Changes

Chemical Bottles and GHS Exclamation Mark Symbol

Keeping up with safety regulations can be like trying to hit a moving target. OSHA just finalized a rule updating the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) to match the seventh revision of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). This May 2024 update aims to make hazard communication clearer and more consistent in U.S. workplaces, so you can breathe a little easier knowing you’re on the right track.

Background: The Globally Harmonized System (GHS)

Before GHS, different countries had their own rules for classifying and communicating chemical hazards. This created a lot of confusion and potential safety risks in workplaces where chemicals are used. Imagine trying to understand a hazard label written in a completely different system — confusing, right?

To solve this, the United Nations developed GHS. It’s a standardized system for classifying chemicals and conveying hazard information on labels and Safety Data Sheets (SDSs). With this system, the same hazard pictograms and information appear on a chemical container in the U.S., China, or any other country following GHS. This uniformity helps ensure that everyone, no matter where they are, understands the dangers associated with chemicals they encounter. The GHS system was adopted into the OSHA HazCom Standard in 2012.

Key Changes in the Updated Standard

The updated OSHA HazCom Standard introduces several important changes designed to improve clarity and safety. Here’s a look at some of the most significant updates:

  • Revised Classification Criteria: OSHA has revised the criteria used to classify certain health and physical hazards. This means some chemicals might be classified differently under the new system. For instance, a chemical previously classified as a mild irritant might now be labeled more stringently based on updated scientific data. These changes ensure that the classification criteria reflect the latest understanding of chemical hazards.
  • Label Updates for Small Containers: The new rule requires more comprehensive and readable labels for small containers. This helps ensure that even small quantities of chemicals are clearly labeled, which is crucial in workplaces where small amounts of chemicals are commonly used. For example, small vials in laboratories will now have labels that are easier to read and understand, reducing the risk of mishandling.
  • Safeguarding Trade Secrets: The updated HCS tackles the challenge of balancing worker safety with the protection of trade secrets. Revisions ensure critical hazard information remains accessible on SDSs while safeguarding legitimate trade secrets. This means workers will have the information they need to stay safe without compromising the proprietary information of manufacturers.
  • Technical Amendments to Safety Data Sheets: The rule introduces technical amendments related to the content of SDSs. These changes may involve adjustments to the organization or wording within specific sections. The goal is to make SDSs more user-friendly while ensuring they continue to provide comprehensive safety data. For instance, sections on emergency procedures might be reworded for clarity and ease of understanding.

GHS Labels and Signs

GHS Exclamation Mark Label for HazCom StandardBilingual OSHA Pesticide Sign with GHS Toxicity SymbolGHS Health Hazard Symbol Label for HazCom StandardGHS Hazard Pictograms Poster

Impact on Businesses

What does this have to do with your business? This OSHA HazCom Standard update will have several significant impacts. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Compliance Timeline: Chemical manufacturers, importers, and distributors have a grace period to comply with the new rules. The compliance deadlines vary depending on whether they are evaluating substances or mixtures, with deadlines falling between January 19, 2026, and July 19, 2027. This phased approach gives businesses time to adjust and implement the necessary changes.
  • Training and Labeling Updates: Employers must update their hazard communication programs, labeling, and employee training by July 20, 2026, or January 19, 2028, depending on whether they handle substances or mixtures. This ensures that employees are informed about the new hazard classifications and labeling elements. Updated training programs will help employees understand the new labels and SDS formats, improving workplace safety.
  • Transition Period: There’s a transition period until the official compliance deadlines. During this time, businesses can comply with either the old or new standard, or even both, to facilitate a smooth switch. This flexibility helps businesses gradually adapt to the new requirements without disrupting operations.

Next Steps

Now that you know what the new changes are, you need to know what’s next. To stay ahead of these changes, here’s what you can do:

  • Stay Informed: Familiarize yourself with the specifics of the updated HCS. OSHA’s website and educational materials are valuable resources. Regularly checking for updates and attending informational webinars can also help keep you informed.
  • Communicate with Suppliers: Reach out to your chemical suppliers to understand their compliance plans regarding the new rule. This will help you anticipate any changes in labeling or SDS formats. Building a good relationship with your suppliers ensures a smoother transition and minimizes disruptions.
  • Update Your Program: Review your existing hazard communication program and identify areas needing revisions based on the updated HCS. Conduct a thorough audit to ensure all aspects of your program align with the new requirements. This might involve updating internal documentation, revising training materials, and making sure all employees are aware of the changes.
  • Train Employees: Schedule training sessions to educate your workforce on the new hazard classifications, labeling elements, and any adjustments to workplace procedures. Effective training helps prevent accidents and ensures everyone understands the new system. Interactive training sessions, including hands-on practice and Q&A sessions, can be particularly effective.

The Benefits of Staying Compliant

Why should you concern yourself with this new update? Staying compliant with the updated OSHA HazCom Standard offers several benefits:

  • Enhanced Safety: Improved hazard communication means safer workplaces. Clear and consistent labels and SDSs help workers understand the risks and take appropriate precautions.
  • Legal Protection: Compliance with OSHA standards helps protect your business from potential legal issues. Non-compliance can result in hefty fines and legal actions, which can be costly and damaging to your reputation.
  • Reputation Protection: Demonstrating a commitment to safety enhances your company’s reputation. Customers, partners, and employees are more likely to trust a business that prioritizes safety and compliance.

OSHA HCS Signs and Labels is your partner in workplace safety. We offer a wide range of GHS-compliant labels and safety signs to keep your workplace informed and OSHA-compliant. Our products are designed to meet current standards and help you stay ahead of regulatory changes.

Explore our product catalog or contact our customer service team for further assistance. We’re here to help you navigate these changes and ensure your workplace remains safe and compliant.

By staying informed, communicating with suppliers, updating your hazard communication program, and training your employees, you can successfully adapt to OSHA’s updated HCS. Remember, compliance is not just about meeting regulations; it’s about creating a safer, more informed workplace for everyone.