June 1, 2015, marked an important deadline in the 4-year phase-in period for OSHA’s revisions to its hazard communication standard. Effective that date, chemical manufacturers, importers, or other employers responsible for preparing SDSs must format each SDS using consistent headings in a specified 16-section sequence. The revised hazard communication standard, which was amended to align with the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), requires chemical manufacturers and importers to evaluate and classify the hazardous chemicals that they produce or import for physical and health hazards and follow a new mandatory 16-section format for SDSs, which were formerly called material safety data sheets (MSDSs).
While employers were required to train their workers on new label elements and the new SDS format by December 1, 2013, manufacturers, distributors, and importers of chemicals were given additional time to bring their materials into compliance with the revised standard. But as of June 1, 2015, chemical manufacturers and importers are required to have completed the transition process for SDSs. Distributors, meanwhile, have until December 1, 2015, to ensure that all shipped containers bear a GHS-compliant label.
Summary of compliance deadlines:
- June 1, 2015: Chemical manufacturers, importers, and distributors must comply with all the requirements of the GHS rule (e.g., hazard classification, SDS format), except compliance with the GHS label requirements is optional for distributors until December 1, 2015.
- December 1, 2015: All shipments of chemical containers must include the GHS-compliant label (signal word, pictogram, hazard statement, and precautionary statement).
- June 1, 2016: All employers that use, handle, or store hazardous chemicals must update alternative workplace labeling and hazard communication programs, as necessary, and provide additional employee training for newly identified physical or health hazards.
Chemical End-User Responsibility for Updated SDSs
Note that OSHA has stated (in a February 2015 enforcement guidance memo) that the agency will not cite employers that are end users of chemicals (rather than manufacturers, importers, or distributors) for not having a GHS-compliant SDS for a chemical if the employer has not received it from its supplier. In fact, if you use chemical mixtures in your facility, the arrival of some SDSs may be delayed if the manufacturers of these products have not received SDSs themselves from upstream suppliers. However, upon receiving SDSs, you must maintain them in your facility and make them available for employees to examine.
Employers relying on SDSs supplied by a manufacturer, importer, or distributor are not liable for their accuracy as long as they have accepted the SDS in “good faith”—that is, without blank spaces or obvious inaccuracies. Employers should report inaccurate or missing information on an SDS to the chemical manufacturer or distributor.
If an employer chooses to conduct its own hazard classification of a chemical under the HazCom rule, the employer will be responsible for the accuracy of the SDS.
Prepare for New SDSs
In the coming months, employers should expect to see an influx of new SDSs for the chemicals they use. To manage this transition, instruct employees who handle incoming chemical shipments to be on the lookout for these SDSs. It is important to have a clear procedure in place for recording which SDSs you have received and replacing MSDSs with SDSs in order to prevent confusion and ensure that the most current hazard information is available to employees.
When a new SDS arrives at your facility, the person who is in charge of your hazard communication program should review it and compare it to the old MSDS. Look for any newly identified hazards, changes in hazard classification, changes to recommended safe work practices and personal protective equipment (PPE), and any other important updates. Make a note of any differences that will need to be communicated to employees or updated in your written hazard communication program.
While employers are not technically required to update their written HazCom programs until June 1, 2016, it is a good practice to manage the transition proactively and take steps to communicate new hazard information to employees as you receive it. For example, if a chemical your employees use is newly classified as a skin irritant and gloves are recommended, immediately begin the process of obtaining the necessary PPE and training the workers who use the chemical.