Unified Agenda - Table of Contents|
Title: Hazard Communication
Abstract: OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires chemical manufacturers and importers to evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import, and prepare labels and material safety data sheets to convey the hazards and associated protective measures to users of the chemicals. All employers with hazardous chemicals in their workplaces are required to have a hazard communication program, including labels on containers, material safety data sheets (MSDS), and training for employees. Within the United States (US), there are other Federal agencies that also have requirements for classification and labeling of chemicals at different stages of the life cycle. Internationally, there are a number of countries that have developed similar laws that require information about chemicals to be prepared and transmitted to affected parties. These laws vary with regard to the scope of substances covered, definitions of hazards, the specificity of requirements (e.g., specification of a format for MSDSs), and the use of symbols and pictograms. The inconsistencies between the various laws are substantial enough that different labels and safety data sheets must often be used for the same product when it is marketed in different nations. The diverse and sometimes conflicting national and international requirements can create confusion among those who seek to use hazard information. Labels and safety data sheets may include symbols and hazard statements that are unfamiliar to readers or not well understood. Containers may be labeled with such a large volume of information that important statements are not easily recognized. Development of multiple sets of labels and safety data sheets is a major compliance burden for chemical manufacturers, distributors, and transporters involved in international trade. Small businesses may have particular difficulty in coping with the complexities and costs involved. As a result of this situation, and in recognition of the extensive international trade in chemicals, there has been a longstanding effort to harmonize these requirements and develop a system that can be used around the world. In 2003, the United Nations adopted the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). Countries are now considering adoption of the GHS into their national regulatory systems. There is an international goal to have as many countries as possible implement the GHS by 2008. OSHA is considering modifying its HCS to make it consistent with the GHS. This would involve changing the criteria for classifying health and physical hazards, adopting standardized labeling requirements, and requiring a standardized order of information for safety data sheets.
Legal Authority: 29 USC 655(b); 29 USC 657
Legal Deadline: None
Statement of Need: Multiple sets of requirements for labels and safety data sheets present a compliance burden for U.S. manufacturers, distributors and transports involved in international trade. Adoption of the GHS would facilitate international trade in chemicals, reduce the burdens caused by having to comply with differing requirements for the same product, and allow companies that have not had the resources to deal with those burdens to be involved in international trade. This is particularly important for small producers who may be precluded currently from international trade because of the compliance resources required to address the extensive regulatory requirements for classification and labeling of chemicals. Thus every producer is likely to experience some benefits from domestic harmonization, in addition to the benefits that will accrue to producers involved in international trade. Additionally, comprehensibility of hazard information will be enhanced as the GHS will: (1) Provide consistent information and definitions for hazardous chemicals; (2) address stakeholder concerns regarding the need for a standardized format for material safety data sheets; and (3) increase understanding by using standardized pictograms and harmonized hazard statements. Several nations, as well as the European Union, are preparing proposals for adoption of the GHS. US manufacturers, employers, and employees will be at a disadvantage in the event that our system of hazard communication is not compliant with the GHS.
Summary of the Legal Basis: The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 authorizes the Secretary of Labor to set mandatory occupational safety and health standards to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women (29 U.S.C. 651).
Alternatives: The alternative to the proposed rulemaking would be to take no regulatory action.
Anticipated Costs and Benefits: The estimates of the costs and benefits are still under development.
Risks: OSHA's risk analysis is under development.
Agency Contact: Dorothy Dougherty
Director, Directorate of Standards and Guidance
Department of Labor
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
200 Constitution Avenue NW., FP Building, Room N3718,
Washington, DC 20210
Phone: 202 693-1950
FAX: 202 693-1678
Unified Agenda - Table of Contents|