Q: What are the OSHA compliance deadlines for the revised Hazard Communication Standard?
A: Employee training should have been completed by Dec. 1, 2013 to help ensure all affected employees understand the new label and Safety Data Sheet (SDS) formats. Training remains a top priority.
Chemical manufacturers, importers and distributors were required to comply with the SDS and labeling provisions by June 1, 2015. Distributors then had until Dec. 1, 2015 to comply with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) labeling requirements for shipped containers. In anticipation of SDS and labeling deadline issues, OSHA sent a Feb. 9, 2015 memo directed specifically at chemical mixers who may miss the deadline due to upstream supplier delays. OSHA stated that it might not cite chemical mixture manufacturers and distributors who failed to meet the deadline provided they could show “reasonable diligence” and made a “good faith” effort to comply. Extensions of up to six months on an inspection-by-inspection basis were proposed to those who exercised reasonable diligence and good faith to obtain the required classification and SDS information from their raw material suppliers. If the situation falls within the categories in the memorandum, distributors will be allowed to ship chemicals labeled with old Hazard Communication Standard compliant labels until Dec. 1, 2017.
Employers have until June 1, 2016 to update their written hazard communication program, any alternate workplace labeling and provide additional employee training for newly identified physical or health hazards.
Q: Based on the label changes, am I required to change my current in-plant workplace labeling system?
A: No. According to the revised Hazard Communication Standard, it is not necessary to change your workplace labeling system as long as all the required information is immediately available to your employees in their work area. You have the option of utilizing the shipped container label information or to use an alternate labeling system. Commonly used alternate labeling systems such as the NFPA 704 hazard rating system and the HMIS are permitted for workplace containers as long as they do not conflict with the shipped container label information. These labels must at least provide general information regarding the hazards of chemicals. When alternate labeling systems are used, training on how to use and understand that alternate labeling system is necessary to ensure employees are aware of the effects of the hazards posed by the chemicals they may be exposed to.
Q: Our facility has decided to maintain electronic copies of our SDSs. What requirements do we need to follow to stay in compliance?
A: OSHA does not specify how the SDS is to be maintained (paper or electronic) as long as employees have immediate and unrestricted access to the SDSs in their work area. If maintaining electronic copies, OSHA requires employers to have a backup procedure (e.g., paper or another electronic system) in place in case the computer is not available. All employees must have adequate computer access with no restrictions and should not have to perform an internet search to review or obtain the SDS. There must be provisions in place to ensure that employees can receive a hard copy if needed in an emergency. It is not acceptable to only transmit the information verbally. Employees must be trained on how to access the SDS on both the computer and the backup system.
Q: If I still don’t have GHS-compliant SDSs for hazardous chemicals currently in use at our facility, what steps should I follow to prevent an OSHA citation?
A: OSHA has stated in its Feb. 9, 2015 Enforcement Guidance for the Hazard Communication Standard that the agency would not issue citations to employers who have not received updated SDSs from their supplier. Best practices would include establishing and documenting “reasonable diligence” and “good faith efforts” to secure SDSs from suppliers.
Q: What obligations do I have to train temporary workers at our facility?
A: Even though staffing agencies and host employers share control over temporary workers, host employers hold the primary responsibility for Hazard Communication Standard training, according to OSHA, since the hazardous chemical exposure is at their facility. The host employer is in the best position to provide site-specific training that is identical to what is provided to their own employees to help inform temporary workers of the chemical hazards in the workplace.