By Ilana R. Morady and Elizabeth Leifel Ash

OSHA has issued a more than 800-page Final Rule revising the Hazard Communication Standard, 29 C.F.R. 1910.1200.  The primary purpose of the revised rule is to improve employees’ understanding of health and physical hazards associated with chemical substances and to align requirements for communicating those standards with the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. 

The most significant changes in the Final Rule relate to labeling of hazardous chemicals and the development of Safety Data Sheets (SDS) (previously referred to as Material Safety Data Sheets or MSDS).  The Final Rule includes mandatory appendices related to labels on containers (Appendix C) and SDS (Appendix D), each of which contain very specific requirements that previously did not exist under Section 1910.1200.  Chemical manufacturers are required to label containers of hazardous chemicals with the following information:  1) product identifier, 2) signal word, 3) hazard statement(s), 4) pictogram(s), precautionary statement(s), and 5) name, address, and telephone number of the chemical manufacturer, importer, or other responsible party.  The current Hazard Communication Standard required only “appropriate hazard warnings.”  Under the Final Rule, Appendix C gives very specific instructions as to the required verbiage and pictograms depending on the classification of the chemical hazard(s).

Similarly, the Final Rule includes far more specific requirements for SDS than the current Hazard Communication Standard includes with respect for MSDS.  For example, the Final Rule requires information to be communicated on the SDS in a specific order, whereas the current Hazard Communication Standard specifies only the information that must be included on the MSDS without specifying an order or format.  Mandatory Appendix D provides additional detail as to the required format and information for SDS.

The Final Rule also contains revisions to other OSHA standards, including chemical-specific requirements such as those related to formaldehyde (1910.1048), asbestos (1910.1001, 1915.1001, and 1926.1101), benzene (1910.1028), hazardous waste operations and emergency response (1910.120, 1926.65), and process safety management (1910.119, 1926.64) to be consistent with the revised Hazard Communication Standard.

The Final Rule is expected to be published in the Federal Register on March 26, 2012.  The rule contains milestones that will require employers to be fully compliant with all of the new requirements by 2016.