skip to main content

Ever since OSHA published its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) earlier in the year to update the HazCom Standard to align with Revision 7 of the UN’s Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), VelocityEHS has received many questions. This is understandable, since this NPRM would bring the first formal revision of the HazCom Standard since 2012, and the proposed changes are likely to have major impacts on chemical product users throughout the supply chain.

In what follows, we address the most common concerns of stakeholders we’ve heard during our webinars, including our recent webinar focused on the OSHA NPRM. We hope this information will help everyone throughout the supply chain get the information they need to prepare for the coming changes to HazCom.

Quick Recap: History of OSHA HazCom Standard

The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970 set the foundation for OSHA as a government agency tasked with protecting workplace safety and health. The General Duty clause of the Act states that “each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”  

Over the years, OSHA issued various standards to address specific aspects of occupational safety. The agency knew of many cases of workplace incidents and fatalities from exposure to hazardous chemicals, many of which resulted in part from employees lacking good information about the identity of the chemicals they worked with, the specific hazards they were exposed to, and safe storage and usage practices. 

OSHA first issued the HazCom Standard in 1983 to address some of the issues leading to chemical exposure incidents, but at that time, the Standard only applied to the manufacturing sector. OSHA updated HazCom in 1987 to expand coverage to include all industries, and again in 1994 with technical changes and amendments intended to improve compliance with the Standard. HazCom created requirements for chemical manufacturers to determine the hazards of the chemicals they produce, provide material safety data sheets (MSDSs) with shipments, and ensure that every shipped container contains a label bearing hazard communication information. The Standard also created regulatory requirements for employers  at workplaces where hazardouschemicals are used to provide employees with access to MSDSs, ensure that all containers containing hazardous chemicals are labeled, develop and maintain a written Hazard Communication Plan containing a chemical inventory list as an appendix, and provide HazCom training to employees. 

Still, the HazCom Standard and its first two updates did not solve all the problems limiting HazCom’s effectiveness. For example, chemical manufacturers did not need to follow a standardized format when creating MSDSs, so a downstream user might find emergency response information near the beginning of a document, near the end, or anywhere in between. Since a typical document might be 10 pages or longer, and since users mostly look for emergency response information during an emergency, that variability in the information’s location could create delays at exactly the wrong time and create risks for employee safety. Another problem pertained to variability in hazard pictograms on shipped container labels.

OSHA was not the only regulatory agency in the world noticing issues with its existing chemical hazard communication regulations. Stakeholders of agencies around the world aired some of these concerns in 1992 in the United Nations’ (UN) Earth Summit event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As a result, a subcommittee of the UN formed to begin developing a model framework based on recognized industry best practices that regulatory bodies could use to draft or revise their own hazardous chemical regulations. The subcommittee published the first edition of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) in 2003 and conducts reviews and updates every two years. A specific edition of the GHS is often known as the “Purple Book,” and the most recent version of the Purple Book, the ninth edition, was published in 2021. 

We should note here that the GHS is not in itself a law, regulation or mandate. It’s meant to be a guide, or building block, that regulatory agencies can use to create more effective regulations. Therefore, publication of a new edition of the Purple Book in and of itself does not automatically change chemical regulations – each regulatory agency needs to initiate a rulemaking to align with an edition or editions of the GHS. 

Because OSHA was involved in the subcommittee’s planning activities from the beginning, they were always going to align with an edition of the GHS at some point. They finally did so when they issued a final rule to update the HazCom Standard in 2012 by aligning it with Revision 3 of the GHS.

Public Hearing Details

Is OSHA going to be doing a public hearing on the OSHA HazCom NPRM?

Yes! OSHA published a notice in the Federal Register on May 20, 2021 announcing that they will be holding an informal public hearing on September 21, 2021 at 10:00 AM Eastern Time (ET). The notice states that the hearing will be held virtually using WebEx, and if more time is needed, the hearing will continue from 9:30 a.m. until 5:00 PM ET on subsequent days.

According to the notice, anyone interested in testifying or questioning witnesses at the hearing must electronically submit a notice by June 18, 2021. In addition, anyone requesting more than ten minutes for their presentation at the hearing or who intends to submit documentary evidence must submit the full text of their testimony, as well as a copy of any documentary evidence, no later than August 21, 2021.

Proposed Changes to Classifications in NPRM

Why is OSHA proposing to change the way that desensitized explosives are classified? Why are they proposing to use the flame pictogram rather than the exploding bomb pictogram?

“Desensitized explosives” are chemicals that are stabilized to suppress their unstable and explosive properties through methods such as wetting with water. Under HazCom 2012, desensitized explosives are currently classified as explosives and are represented by the “exploding bomb” pictogram. HazCom 2012 addressed the special handling precautions for these chemicals through hazard statements.

However, the UN had added a new separate hazard class for “desensitized explosives” to the GHS (associated with the flame pictogram rather than the exploding bomb) to better ensure that users receive the specific information they need about procedures to stabilize and safely work with these chemicals. OSHA agrees that a new hazard class is warranted, and proposes to classify these chemicals in Categories 1 (lowest explosive hazard) through Category 4 (highest explosive hazard).

Under the NPRM, chemicals that have the properties of desensitized explosives would be placed within this new category unless they have a corrected burning rate higher than 1200 kilogram per minute (kg/min), or are chemical products intentionally designed to be explosive, such as pyrotechnics/fireworks. In those cases, manufacturers would classify them as explosives and use the exploding bomb pictogram.

Weren’t pyrophoric gases already defined as a hazard class under Hazcom   2012? What would change with the proposed rule?

Pyrophoric gases were specifically included in the definition of a hazardous chemical in paragraph (c) of the HazCom Standard starting with the 1994 version of the Standard. When OSHA revised the HazCom Standard in 2012, it continued to include pyrophoric gases within the definition of hazardous chemical even through pyrophoric gases were not classified within the GHS Revision 3 to which OSHA aligned the HazCom Standard at that time. Following 2012, OSHA continued to work with the United Nations Sub-Committee of Experts on the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (UNSCEGHS) to get pyrophoric gases added to the GHS. OSHA agrees with the current inclusion of pyrophoric gases within the GHS as Category 1A flammable gases, and proposes to follow that classification in the HazCom Standard. The proposed change would help ensure that users receive better communication about the specific hazards and associated precautions to be followed for pyrophoric gases.

What is changing regarding the classification of aerosols? How are aerosols currently classified under HazCom 2012?

OSHA believes that under HazCom 2012, flammable aerosols are either classified as gases under pressure or flammable aerosols, or both. OSHA also maintains that non-flammable aerosols are currently either not classified at all, or classified as gases under pressure.

The NPRM states that the current classification is largely based on information pertaining to the transport of compressed gas cylinders, which OSHA now believes does not accurately represent the hazards of aerosol containers (which have different structure and characteristics than gas cylinders, including failure mechanisms) as used and stored in workplaces.

OSHA’s proposal in the NPRM is to expand the existing Flammable Aerosols hazard class (appendix B.3) to include non-flammable aerosols, as well as flammable aerosols. Non-flammable aerosols would now be under Category 3 and flammable aerosols will be under Category 1 or Category 2. Additionally, categories 1 and 2 would be associated with the flame pictogram, while Category 3 would have no associated pictogram. These proposed changes would help ensure that users have more accurate and representative information regarding the hazards of aerosols.

Are there any updates to combustible dust classifications?

There are no proposed updates or revisions of combustible dust classifications themselves in the NPRM. However, OSHA has stated that manufacturers would need to assess whether ordinary use of their product would generate combustible dust, and if so, to include that in the classification of the product and provide the “combustible dust” classification on the product shipped container label, as well as in Section 2 of the SDS.


Do the labelling requirements for “small” and “very small” containers apply to “secondary” containers?

The new proposed allowances in the NPRM for “small” and “very small” containers are specifically for shipped container labels rather than secondary or workplace container labels. However, employers must have a workplace container labelling system that includes all workplace containers, regardless of size. The requirements under HazCom for workplace container labels are performance-based, meaning that employers have a number of options as long as the label contains a product identifier and information consistent with HazCom, and that the combination of the label and other information in the workplace (training, work instructions, signage, etc.) conveys all of the hazard information present on the shipped container label to employees within their workshift. This flexibility helps employers find a suitable method for labelling all workplace containers, even those of smaller size.

 Would using NFPA labels in the plant be considered conflicting information to GHS markings?

This question seems to be asking about “workplace” container labelling requirements rather than shipped container labelling requirements. Workplace containers, meaning any containers of a hazardous chemical used in the workplace that are not the original shipped container labels, have performance-based requirements rather than the prescriptive requirements for shipped container labels under the HazCom Standard. Basically, an employer needs a workplace labelling system in which the label itself plus other information in the workplace, such as training, work instructions, signage, and the SDSs for chemicals conveys all of the information present on the shipped container label to employees within their workshift.

Within this system, the employer has a variety of options for information to include on the workplace label, as long as the information includes the product identifier and is consistent with HazCom. Incorporation of other systems, like Hazardous Materials Identification System (HMIS) or National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) rankings, is allowed on workplace labels as long as the labels meet these workplace labelling requirements and the overall workplace labelling system provides access to all of the information on the shipped container label.

Is the labelling of individual small containers required now, or is it going to be required in the future?

The labelling of individual small shipped containers is currently required under HazCom2012.

The NPRM proposes to codify an allowance for using abbreviated label information on “small containers” that was first provided in a 2013 guidance document released by OSHA, while also more precisely defining a “small container” as 100 milliliters (mL) or less in capacity.

Additionally, the NPRM proposes a new allowance for “very small containers,” defined as less than 3 mL, that allows manufacturers to put only the product identifier on the immediate container if they can demonstrate that affixing a label to the container would interfere with the intended use. However, manufacturers following either allowance would need to provide the full shipped container label information on the outer packaging label, as OSHA had also stated in the 2013 guidance document.

The NPRM also proposes a new requirement that manufacturers would need to provide instructions with the shipment stating that when the containers are not in use, they are to be stored within the outer packaging containing the full shipped container label information. These instructions would help ensure that end users have better access to all of the information on the shipped container label.

Is there any movement toward QR Code technology being used on labels to provide fast access to an SDS?

OSHA’s current NPRM does not include a proposal to allow use of electronic labelling systems, including QR codes on shipped container labels, but does invite public comment on whether they should consider doing so in a future revision of the HazCom Standard.

In the NPRM, OSHA acknowledges that there are international efforts “actively promoting the application of electronic labels for chemicals.” OSHA has participated in these discussions and has typically expressed awareness of potential benefits, along with some reservations about how to ensure that such a system would, in practice, maintain a high level of protection for workers. For example, in a 2019 public meeting, Maureen Ruskin, Deputy Director of OSHA’s Directorate of Standards & Guidance stressed the importance of having immediate access to the chemical safety information provided on container labels, and that requiring workers to go elsewhere to obtain that information could add additional steps to that process.

It will be interesting to see what develops in the future on this issue as OSHA receives feedback from stakeholders, and as OSHA continues to participate in UNSCEGHS discussions about the benefits of digitalization.

The requirement for dating all products once ready for shipment could be an issue for many companies, particularly if labels include those on small containers and lithographed containers. Do you anticipate push back from manufacturers on this?

First, a little context. OSHA’s NPRM proposes that manufacturers would not need to relabel shipped containers if they learn significant new hazard information about the chemical after it’s already been “released for shipment” (meaning, secured/palletized and in an area awaiting distribution), but would need to provide the updated shipped container label with the shipment. The reason for this change is that ever since OSHA published the 2012 final rule, stakeholders in the chemical manufacturing industry had stated concerns that they sometimes identify new hazard information after they’ve already released containers of the chemical for shipment, and trying to access and relabel those containers created many risks, such as container damage, chemical spills, worker chemical exposure, and ergonomics strains.

OSHA is simultaneously proposing a new paragraph in (f)(1)(vii) adding a requirement that the shipped container label must include the date a chemical is released for shipment. OSHA states that they believe that providing the date a chemical is released for shipment on the label would allow manufacturers and distributors to more easily determine their obligations when new hazard information becomes available, so this requirement needs to be taken in context with the allowance for not needing to relabel containers released for shipment. Arguably, these proposed revisions taken together still would result in a net smaller burden on manufacturers.

That said, if manufacturers believe there would be practical problems in implementing the proposed requirement to a date released for shipment on the label, they can submit their comments to OSHA until May 19.

Is it acceptable to post an SDS at or near the point of use, rather than labelling individual small containers?

No. Manufacturers of chemicals must provide all immediate containers of hazardous chemicals with shipped container labels. Employers using the chemicals in their workplaces who transfer these chemicals from shipped containers to other secondary, or workplace containers must also individually label all workplace containers of the chemicals.

The only exceptions to the above rule pertain to stationary process containers (coating tanks, dip tanks, process vessels, etc.) or portable containers which will be immediately used by the person who transfers the hazardous chemicals into them.

These portable containers would not need to be labeled, although users are advised to be cautious in applying this exemption to avoid unanticipated situations in which the chemical is not immediately used within the work shift, and the unlabeled container becomes an exposure risk to workers.

In the case of stationary process containers, the HazCom Standard states that employers can put signage or other documentation near the process container rather than affixing it directly to the container itself, so long as the documentation identifies the container it’s referring, to and conveys the information required for workplace container labeling in Section 1910.1200(f)(6)(ii) of the HazCom Standard.

Under no condition, however, does the HazCom Standard allow only an SDS to be posted near point of use in lieu of meeting full workplace labelling obligations.


Could you clarify the timeline involved in the transition to the new HazCom requirements?

Sure! First, keep in mind that at the present time, this is still only a proposed rule and the public comment period ends on May 19, 2021. OSHA may also schedule an informal public hearing if one is requested during the public comment period, and if that happens (which seems likely, given the importance of the proposed changes to stakeholders) it would result in more feedback for OSHA to sift through and potentially in more time before a final rule appears. It’s not likely that OSHA would be able to publish a final rule in the Federal Register before sometime near the end of 2021.

The final rule would become effective 60 days after its publication date, but according to the NPRM, there would be a 2-year transition timeline beginning on that effective date. Within one year of the effective date, chemical manufacturers or importers of substances (meaning, products that can’t be broken down into separate ingredients) would need to comply with the new classification, shipped label and SDS requirements for those products affected by the changes. Manufacturers and importers of mixtures would have two years from the effective date to comply.

Obviously, the biggest unknown in the timeline is the publication of the final rule in the Federal Register, because that determines the timeline for everything that comes after.


Are there changes to training requirements as a result of the proposed rule?

There are no changes to general training requirements proposed in the NPRM, per se. However, because the proposed rule would change key aspects of HazCom, including the ways that several categories of hazardous chemicals are classified and the shipped container label elements, such as hazard pictograms, employers would need to identify whether they have chemicals affected by those changes in the workplace. If so, they would need to train their workers on changes to any classifications, SDSs, shipped container labels, and associated HazCom elements such as hazard pictogram.

Does the proposed rule change any general requirements for manufacturers, distributors, or end users?

Not in a general sense. These three groups will continue to have the same broad responsibilities they currently have under HazCom, meaning that

  • Manufacturers and importers still need to classify their chemicals, develop SDSs and shipped container labels based on those classifications, and provide the SDSs and shipped container labels to downstream users.
  • Distributors in the middle of the chemical supply chain need to provide SDSs and shipped container labels to downstream users.
  • Employers/end users who have hazardous chemicals in their workplace need to maintain a written HazCom Plan, an up-to-date chemical inventory list, a library of SDSs for all hazardous chemicals that employees have access to without barriers, a system for managing shipped container labels and workplace container labels, and provide HazCom training to all employees who work with hazardous chemicals.

That said, all of these groups may have specific things to address once the proposed changes become effective:

  • Manufacturers and importers will need to reclassify some classes of hazardous chemicals, and develop and provide new shipped labels and SDSs.
  • Distributors would also need to ensure they obtain any updated SDSs and shipped container labels from upstream suppliers, and provide them to downstream users.
  • End-users/employers would need to make sure to update their SDS library with any newly re-authored SDSs. If they have chemicals affected by the classification changes, would need to train their employees on the updated classifications and information changes, such as changes to hazard statements and pictograms, and potentially update their written HazCom Plan where appropriate.

How would OSHA standards affect building code and area classifications where maximum allowed quantities of class II liquids are stored and processed?

Building codes are developed by municipalities, and so the proposed HazCom changes would not directly change any municipal regulations. However, to the degree that municipalities base maximum allowable quantities of different chemical classes on OSHA hazard classifications, some of those quantities may change once certain chemical classes such as desensitized explosives, aerosols and flammable gases are reclassified based on the updates to the HazCom Standard.

Do you forsee the need to update a company’s HazCom program and retrain its employees?

Potentially. Classifications of several classes of hazardous chemicals are changing, as well as associated label elements such as hazard pictograms. Certainly, some employers will find that key hazard communication elements for chemicals in their workplace will change, and would need to assess whether they have chemicals in the workplace affected by the proposed classification changes. If so, they’d need to update their written HazCom Plan and provide workplace HazCom training on the changes.

Let VelocityEHS Help!

When it comes to chemical hazard communication, VelocityEHS is the industry leader. Our award-winning VelocityEHS chemical management solutions have helped thousands of customers and millions of users worldwide simplify compliance with hazardous communication requirements and improve workplace chemical safety, while our in-house team of SDS Authoring and chemical safety experts help you ensure that your SDSs are 100% in-compliance with hazard communication regulations and chemical safety best practices around the globe. And we can facilitate early phase-out of older SDSs and labels for suppliers to soften the blow once the transition timeline for the final rule begins.

To see for yourself how VelocityEHS can help you simplify compliance with HazCom, WHMIS and other global GHS-aligned hazard communication standards, Request a Demo today or give us a call at 1.888.362.2007.

And if you’re looking for ways to simplify SDS management alongside other key safety management tasks, check out our cloud-based Safety Management Solution. You’ll get the support you need for SDS & chemical management, incident management, inspections, JSAs, safety meeting management, corrective action management and more! Contact us or request a demo today!