Enforcement and Inspection

Understanding OSHA’s Enforcement Policy for the GHS Phase-In Period

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has released new instructions for its inspectors to ensure the consistent enforcement of its revised Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). So what will inspectors be looking for in your hazard communication (HazCom) program if your facility is inspected? Keep reading to find out.

OSHA revised the HCS in March 2012 to align with the United Nations Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). The intention of the revisions was to improve the quality, consistency, and clarity of chemical hazard information that workers receive. Among the revisions, chemicals must now be classified according to specified hazard criteria, chemical container labels must contain hazard pictograms and other key information, and safety data sheets (SDSs), formerly material safety data sheets (MSDSs), must be written in a specified 16-section format.

OSHA’s Enforcement Instruction

The instruction, which was issued on July 20, outlines the revisions to the HCS, such as the revised classification of chemicals, label elements for containers of hazardous chemicals, and the required format and content for SDSs. It also explains how the revised HCS is to be enforced during its phase-in period and after the standard is fully implemented on June 1, 2016.


Join us on Tuesday, September 15, for our in-depth webinar, New HazCom Inspection Directive Released: Tips for Staying in Compliance and Preparing for a Visit from OSHA


The revised HCS includes these key compliance dates as part of its phase-in period:

  • Employers were required to train workers on the new label elements and SDSs by December 1, 2013.
  • Chemical manufacturers, importers, and distributors had to comply with revised SDS requirements by June 1, 2015.
  • Manufacturers and importers had to comply with new labeling provisions by June 1, 2015.
  • Distributors have until December 1, 2015 to comply with labeling provisions as long as they are not relabeling materials or creating SDSs, in which case they must comply with the June 1 deadline.
  • All employers that use, handle, or store hazardous chemicals must update alternative workplace labeling and HazCom programs, as necessary, and provide additional employee training for newly identified physical or health hazards by June 1, 2016, when the rule is fully implemented.
  • If a section of the HCS was updated and does not fall into any of the designated effective dates (for example, a definition change), the change was effective as of May 25, 2012, and manufacturers, importers, distributors, and employers must comply with the revised section.


On July 9, 2015, OSHA implemented a new directive for its inspectors to ensure the consistent enforcement of its revised Hazard Communication Standard. Click here to learn more!


In the directive, OSHA states that the administration will typically not cite chemical manufacturers, importers, or distributors that lack a GHS-compliant SDS or label if these companies can show that they “have exercised ‘reasonable diligence’ and ‘good faith’ to obtain HCS 2012-compliant SDSs from upstream suppliers but have not received them.” It falls to the employer or manufacturer to provide “persuasive documentation” showing that it made reasonable efforts to obtain the necessary information from upstream suppliers and attempted to find hazard information from alternative sources (such as chemical registries).

During the transition period, when OSHA determines that a violation exists either under HCS 1994 or HCS 2012, citations to manufacturers or importers will be issued for both versions of the standard.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at OSHA’s current enforcement policy for the new Confined Spaces in Construction standard.