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Hazard Communication Frequently Asked Questions
Q: When did the revised Hazard Communication Standard become effective?
A: Employers were required to train their workers on the new shipped container label elements and SDS format by Dec. 1, 2013. Chemical manufacturers, importers, distributors and employers were required to comply with all modified provisions of the final rule by June 1, 2015. However, distributors could ship products labeled by manufacturers under the old standard until Dec. 1, 2015.
On Feb. 9, 2015, OSHA issued an internal memorandum directed at chemical mixture manufacturers and importers only. Extensions of up to six months were given on an inspection-by-inspection basis to those who exercised reasonable diligence and good faith to obtain the required classification and SDS information from their raw material suppliers. In these limited situations, distributors were allowed to ship chemicals labeled with the old standard compliant labels until Dec. 1, 2017.
By June 1, 2016, employers were required to update their alternative workplace labeling and hazard communication programs as necessary and provide additional worker training for new identified physical and 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.
Safety Data Sheet (SDS) Compliance
Safety data sheets (SDSs) are an important component of the Hazard Com- munication Standard. They are intended to provide comprehensive information about specific substances or mixtures for use in workplace chemical management. They are used as a source of information about hazards, including environmental hazards, and to obtain advice on safety precautions.
Q: When are SDSs required?
A: SDSs are required for each hazardous chemical a manufacturer or importer produces or imports. This includes all substances or mixtures that meet OSHA’s criteria for physical, health or environmental hazards and for all mixtures that contain ingredients that meet the criteria for carcinogenic, toxic to reproduction or specific target organ toxicity in concentrations exceeding the cut-off limits specified by the criteria for mixtures. Competent authorities may also require SDSs for mixtures not meeting the criteria for classification but containing hazardous ingredients in certain concentrations.
Q: With the revision to the Hazard Communication Standard, SDSs now have a standardized 16-section format and minimum information must be given for all of the sections. What if specific information is not available for a given section?
A: If specific information is not applicable or not available for a given section, then the SDS must indicate that no applicable information was found.
Q: When a new SDS is received are you required to keep the old SDS?
A: If the formulation is identical on the new SDS, then you are not required to retain the old SDS. But if the formulation has changed, then you are required to maintain the old SDS.
Q: How long must SDSs be maintained?
A: Based on OSHA’s Access to Employee Exposure and Medical Records Standard (29 CFR 1910.1020), employers are required to keep some record of the identity of the substances to which their employees were exposed to for 30 years. OSHA recognizes SDSs as an acceptable record. If you choose not to retain the actual SDS, then you must not only have a record of the identity (chemical name), but also information regarding where and when it was used.