Friday, December 14, 2012

OSHA Revises Standard

Jane Lewis Volk, Esquire
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has recently revised its Hazard Communications Standard.  The new standard aligns OSHA with the United Nations’ global chemical labeling standard.  Once fully implemented, OSHA expects the new regulations to prevent an estimated 43 deaths and result in an about $475.2 million in productivity savings annually for U.S. employers.
As many employers know, OSHA’s Hazard Communications Standard is the most often cited of all OSHA regulations. This standard requires chemical labeling, the maintenance of material safety data sheets and safety training of employees.  The labeling is under the control of the manufacturer, but employers are required to comply with the workplace-related provisions. Any employer that has undergone an OSHA inspection knows that compliance officers invariably focus on these matters.
The revision of the standard ensures consistent practices both nationally and internationally. OSHA’s new standard will classify chemicals according to their health and physical hazards, and establish consistent safety data sheets for all chemicals made in the United States and imported from abroad.
The revised standard will also require new labels on all chemicals.  Previously, chemical preparers were permitted to label containers in a variety of ways as long as it contained the required information. The new labels, however, must adhere to a strict format that contains all of the following:
  • Signal word: determines the level of severity of the hazard.  “Danger” will indicate the most severe hazards, while “warning” will be used for less severe hazards.
  • Pictogram: indicates the type of hazard posed by the chemical.  The pictogram must be contained within a red diamond.  A black border will no longer be accepted.
  • Hazard statement: describes the classification of the hazard.
  • Precautionary statement: gives recommended precautions to avoid harm from the chemical.
In the past, OSHA did not enforce the requirement to update labels as new information about chemicals and their hazards became available.  But as part of the new standard, OSHA has indicated that it will crack down on updates to labels, requiring employers to revise labels within six months of becoming aware of any new information.
Employers will be required to provide employee training about the new labels and safety data sheet format. Although the new standards will not begin to take effect until 2015, employee training must be completed by the end of 2013.
Once fully phased in by 2016, the revised standard is expected to prevent an estimated 585 injuries and illnesses annually. It will reduce trade barriers and result in productivity improvements for American business that regularly handle, store and use hazardous chemicals.  OSHA estimates cost savings of $32.2 million alone will accrue to employers that periodically update safety data sheets and labels for chemicals covered in the standard.
Any employer that utilizes chemical substances in the workplace should request updated materials from its suppliers and plan to initiate new hazard communications and training in the workplace to comply with the new standard.

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