By Ilana R. Morady

2013 is the year that employers must begin complying with OSHA’s new Hazard Communication (HazCom) standard.

What is the new HazCom standard?

Last year, the Agency revised the HazCom standard to align with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS), which is an international standardized approach to elements of hazard communication. With OSHA’s adoption of the GHS come several changes:

Safety Data Sheets. Under the new standard, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) are now known as Safety Data Sheets (SDSs). SDSs must meet a specified 16-section format.

Hazard Classification. Under the old standard, chemical manufacturers had to perform a hazard determination of the chemicals they manufactured. They could follow any number of procedures for conducting a hazard determination as long as they accurately determined the hazards. Now, chemical manufacturers must follow one and only one procedure for classifying health and physical hazards of chemicals. This procedure is now known as a “hazard classification.”

Labels. Under the old standard, labels had to provide the identity of the chemical and appropriate hazard warnings. This could be done by various means as long as the necessary information was conveyed to the chemical user. The new standard is more prescriptive: after the hazard classification is complete, the standard sets forth exactly what information must be on a label for each identified hazard class and category. This information must be conveyed through pictograms, signal words, hazard statements, and precautionary statements.

When do you need to comply?

This year: December 1, 2013 is the deadline by which employers must train employees on the new label elements and SDS format.

Later years: June 1, 2015 is the deadline for compliance with all new HazCom standard requirements, except that chemical distributors have until December 1, 2015 before they must stop shipping containers with non-GHS labels. June 1, 2016 is the deadline for employers to update workplace labeling and hazard communication programs as necessary. Employers also have to provide employee training for any new physical or health hazards identified by a hazard classification by this date.

Before these compliance dates hit, you can comply with either the new or old HazCom standard, or both.