OSHA’s proposed updates to HazCom: What small businesses need to know


The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced earlier this month that they have issued a proposed rule to update the Hazard Communication regulation, commonly referred to in industrial spaces as “HazCom.”

HazCom, which was overhauled in 2012 and updated again in 2015, is part of OSHA’s continuous effort to remain aligned with the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). This coordination effort ensures all hazards that are associated with chemicals are thoroughly, correctly, and consistently communicated to everyone who uses them.

Even further updates to the Hazard Communication regulation are certain once this current rulemaking period is completed, as the 8th revision of the GHS was published in 2019 and the 9th revision is scheduled to publish later this year in October.

What Is the “GHS?”

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals is commonly referred to by its acronym “GHS” and is managed by the United Nations. Developed to provide a consistent means of identifying and communicating the hazards associated with chemicals that are manufactured and used globally, the establishment of the GHS and its integration into the chemical safety regulations of nations around the world brought about many changes in identifying and communicating chemical hazards.

One significant change was the global standardization of the former “Material Safety Data Sheet” (MSDS) and its equivalents. Now referred to as the “Safety Data Sheet” (SDS), manufacturers of chemicals must now utilize the same format for their SDSs and ensure that SDSs all contain the same types of information. This standardization eliminated the inconsistency of information that was being communicated on chemical hazards globally.

Another significant change was the global standardization of hazard symbols used on SDSs, and on primary and secondary chemical container labels that communicate the types of health, flammability, reactivity and other hazards associated with chemicals. Previously, U.S. chemical manufacturers used the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) fire diamond and/or previous versions of the American Coatings Association (ACA) Hazardous Materials Information System (HMIS) ratings to communicate a chemical’s health, flammability, reactivity and other hazards.

As a result, similarly with the former MSDS and its equivalents, there was no consistency in the hazard symbols used by chemical manufacturers around the world. This standardization resolved the inconsistency issue with the hazard symbols.

HazCom and GHS Requirements and Recommendations for Small Businesses

The hope is that in 2021, all small business employers have implemented a GHS-compliant hazard communication program. After OSHA’s initial integration of the GHS into the Hazard Communication regulation in 2012, all employers, including small businesses, were granted a 3-year transition period to implement a GHS-compliant hazard communication program.

This includes making the changes mentioned above with replacing their facilities’ MSDSs with SDSs and ensuring their primary and secondary chemical container labels display the GHS hazard symbols. Also required is keeping an up-to-date inventory of all hazardous chemicals in use at their facilities and training employees on their GHS-compliant hazard communication program.

However, the reality is that Hazard Communication has been on OSHA’s annual Top 10 list of most frequently violated regulations for at least the past 15 years. So for those small business employers who have not yet implemented a GHS-compliant hazard communication program, today is a great day to start. OSHA’s small business guide for hazard communication provides detailed information that guides these efforts.

Further, Hazard Communication benefits anyone who works with hazardous chemicals. Therefore, one-person operations as well as sole proprietors and LLCs who only have independent contractors working for them or family members helping operate their businesses can always go the extra mile and utilize OSHA resources, like the hazard communication small business guide, to implement a GHS-compliant hazard communication program for their businesses as well, even though they may not be required by law to do so.

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Thomas Insights, 23 February 2021
; https://www.thomasnet.com/insights/osha-s-proposed-updates-to-hazcom-what-small-businesses-need-to-know/