OSHA Clarifies Enforcement Of Updated Hazard Communication Standard

OSHA in a recent letter of interpretation (LOI) has clarified aspects of its policy for enforcing the agency’s updated 2012 Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) after industry groups raised concerns about shipping existing stocks of covered chemicals that were already packaged and labeled to comply with the old rule before the new HCS took effect.

In a March 10 letter to the American Coatings Association (ACA), a paint industry group, Thomas Galassi, head of OSHA’s Directorate of Enforcement Programs, outlines an enforcement policy that allows distribution of existing stocks of chemicals already in the supply chain but generally requires companies to have labels and safety data sheets for the shipments available.

OSHA’s HCS requires chemical manufacturers and importers to evaluate the hazards of their substances and prepare labels and safety data sheets to ensure that workers and customers understand chemical hazards. The agency’s 2012 update of the standard strengthened requirements for labels and safety data sheets.

Manufacturers and importers had to comply with the updated 2012 HCS by June 1, 2015, while distributors faced a Dec. 1, 2015 deadline for depleting existing inventory labeled under the old 1994 standard.

While OSHA issued guidance last year on its plans for enforcing the new standard, ACA in October, sought additional clarity, particularly regarding potential enforcement against companies that complied with the new standard in labeling new products but still had existing stocks in the supply chain labeled under the agency’s prior 1994 standard.

In an October meeting with OSHA, ACA faulted the agency’s 2015 enforcement guidance for a variety of reasons, including that manufacturers send safety data sheets to downstream distributors separately from product shipments, which could leave shipments in the supply chain out of compliance with the new standard.

In the March 10 letter, Galassi reiterates OSHA’s enforcement policy detailed in May 29 guidance, apparently clarifying aspects to industry’s satisfaction. The March memo says that while manufacturers may ship existing stocks labeled under the prior 1994 HCS after the June 2015 deadline for complying with the new rule, they must supply labels and safety data sheets that are compliant with the updated 2012 HCS.

Galassi outlines a similar requirement for distributors. While distributors do not have to relabel existing stocks packaged for shipment prior to the December 2015 effect date, they must obtain and provide labels and safety data sheets from the manufacturer or importer that comply with the 2012 standard.

In cases where distributors are unable to obtain the labels and safety data sheets, they must demonstrate that they exercised “reasonable due diligence and good faith” in trying to get those documents, OSHA says. All distributed containers must comply with the 2012 HCS by Dec. 1, 2017, the letter says.

In a March 29 blog post, ACA’s Stephen Wieroniey says OSHA’s recent letter of interpretation addresses some, but not all of the group’s concerns.

“ACA believes that this March 2016 LOI more clearly states OSHA’s expectations for existing ‘ready for shipment stock’ and product in the supply chain, and should alleviate concerns raised by the membership,” he says. “Ideally, this LOI will provide manufacturers and distributors with the specificity needed to remain confident that they are compliant when shipping HCS 1994-labeled stock beyond June 1, 2015 and Dec.1, 2015, respectfully.”

Wieroniey notes that the rule has taken effect and urges ACA’s members to comply with the HCS 2012 standard and document all good faith efforts to do so.

On its website, OSHA says the 2012 HCS update aligns the agency’s standard with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, which will help reduce trade barriers and bring a common and coherent approach to classifying chemicals and communicating hazard information on labels and safety data sheets.

Additionally, OSHA says the change will yield productivity improvements for companies that handle, store and use hazardous chemicals, while reducing costs for companies that periodically update labels and safety data sheets for chemicals covered under the HCS.