Big Changes to EHS Industry in 2016 — More Coming in 2017

The volume and importance of new regulations and provisions introduced over the last 12 months will likely help 2016 go down as a milestone year in EHS. Under the direction of the Obama administration, OSHA and the EPA enacted a number of long-anticipated regulatory changes intended to drive workplace safety improvements across a broad spectrum of industries.

Here’s a look at a few of the major events that shaped EHS in 2016, and some predictions for what to expect in 2017 and beyond.

GHS Final Deadline

The June 1, 2016 final GHS effective date was reached, ending a four-year transition period during which employers, chemical manufacturers and distributors were required to adopt the revised Hazard Communication Standard (HazCom). Under the revised standard, chemical manufacturers and distributors were required to change how they evaluated chemicals in order to classify them according to GHS-aligned criteria, and had to re-author MSDSs to meet the 16-section SDS format and revise shipped labels to include a minimum of six required elements. Chemical users retained all the same core responsibilities that had previously been in place, but as part of the transition were required to revise their written HazCom plans, update workplace labeling systems, convert to safety data sheets (SDSs) in place of MSDSs for all hazardous chemicals on-site, and train employees on the changes to SDSs and shipped container labels, as well as any newly identified chemical hazards resulting from the chemical manufacturers’ required re-classification process.

OSHA plans to continue reviewing future editions of the United Nations’ GHS to determine whether or not it should align its HazCom Standard with information presented in newer versions of the system. In fact, OSHA is currently evaluating possible alignment with GHS Revision 7.  The United Nations currently publishes new editions of GHS on a two year cycle. Therefore, employers covered by the HazCom Standard should anticipate and prepare for future updates to the Standard.

New OSHA Regulations & Provisions

Aside from the final GHS deadline, OSHA was able to push through several overdue regulations, changes and provisions during President Obama’s final year in office. In May, OSHA issued its final rule requiring employers already covered by the agency’s Recordkeeping Standard to begin electronically submitting injury and illness data. As part of the new rule, OSHA also introduced an anti-retaliation provision that prohibits employers covered by the Recordkeeping Rule from implementing and enforcing workplace policies that discourage injury and illness reporting. These include certain post-incident drug testing and safety incentive programs that might deter employees from voluntarily reporting workplace injuries and illnesses. While the anti-retaliation portions of the rule had initially been challenged by several organizations and industry groups, a court ruling in November cleared the way for OSHA to begin enforcing the controversial new provisions on December 1.

OSHA also enacted the largest, most sweeping changes to silica dust regulations since 1971. Earlier this year, the new Final Rule for Respirable Crystalline Silica set in motion a series of deadlines by which different industries are required to change how they monitor and control employee exposure to silica dust. Construction will be the first industry scheduled to comply with the new regulation, requiring employers to limit worker exposures to silica and implement equipment and procedures to further protect workers.

And finally in November, OSHA published a new final rule on slip, trip and fall hazards in general industry that significantly overhauled existing requirements and included new technology and industry methods intended to reduce the number of fall-related employee deaths and injuries. The new rule requires general-industry employers to identify and evaluate slip, trip, and fall hazards and provide appropriate personal protective equipment; conduct regular and periodic inspections and maintenance of all walking-working surfaces in the workplace; and provide training that enables employees to recognize the hazards of falling and the procedures to be followed to minimize these hazards. While a majority of the new requirements are effective January 17, 2017, OSHA is extending compliance dates for some of the new requirements in the final rule to give employers time to get familiar with the new requirements.

The Lautenberg Act

Last summer, with overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress, President Obama signed into law the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, amending the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and changing the way the EPA reviews and classifies hazardous chemicals. Up until now, TSCA had permitted the use of more than 80,000 chemicals without any safety review, and allowed hundreds of new chemicals to be released to the market untested each year. The Lautenberg Act significantly alters this, requiring the EPA to establish a process that not only evaluates the safety of all new chemicals before they’re introduced to the market, but also assess the safety of all chemicals currently in use. Based on the results of the evaluation, the EPA is empowered via the Act to take a range of actions to address potential concerns including bans, limitations and additional testing.

Earlier this month the agency released the list of chemicals for its first review cycle, including asbestos, a known human carcinogen that has been widely called upon to be banned. In the coming years, other highly controversial hazardous chemicals are sure to follow as the Lautenberg Act requires EPA to review another chemical for every risk evaluation it completes, so that by the end of 2019 there must be at least 20 chemical risk evaluations ongoing at any given time. The EPA has also already proposed restrictions on some chemicals, including certain uses of trichloroethylene (TCE). As of this writing, the future of that proposal is unclear, but further proposed actions by EPA under the Act will likely occur in 2017.

2017 and Beyond

The fate of many recently introduced OSHA policies remains unclear. Some EHS professionals expect a temporary moratorium on new agency regulations, especially those that overburden companies, and the repeal of recent OSHA and EPA changes based on the opinion that they hinder business growth.

Regardless of what (if any) regulations are repealed or weakened, OSHA and EPA are not expected to introduce many new EHS regulations or rules over the next few years. However, that does not mean that progress toward greater workplace safety and environmental sustainability will slow. Today’s EHS programs are no longer solely driven by regulatory compliance. Customers and the broader marketplace are advancing better EHS practices by punishing bad actors and rewarding companies who safeguard employees and demonstrate environmental stewardship. It is likely that the general push toward safer and smarter EHS practices will continue to trend upward for the foreseeable future.

Let VelocityEHS Help

Our comprehensive, mobile-enabled, cloud-based MSDSonline chemical management solution helps employers meet key compliance requirements of the GHS-aligned HazCom Standard — including management of SDSs for each hazardous chemical onsite, creating workplace container labels, and providing employees with right-to-know access to SDSs even offline with the new eBinder app — it also simplifies the identification and tracking of chemicals that fall under EPA review, giving you the control and visibility needed to effectively manage your chemical inventory and maintain compliance. In addition, the VelocityEHS Compliance Management solution makes it easy to assign and schedule compliance tasks, track action items, and send escalating notifications when required actions or deadlines approach to help you navigate a changing regulatory landscape. With the right tools in place, facility managers will be ready to adapt to the requirements of new rules and continue to improve overall workplace safety in 2017 and beyond.

Finally, stay up to date with the latest EHS news by visiting the VelocityEHS blog. EHS professionals with questions about any recent regulatory changes are encouraged to attend one of our many free webinars, or visit our library of complimentary white papers and guides for thought leadership on a variety of EHS topics.