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OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.
April 23, 2015
Ms. Jennifer C. Gibson
Vice President, Regulatory Affairs
National Association of Chemical Distributors
1560 Wilson Blvd, Suite 1100
Arlington, Virginia 22209
Dear Ms. Gibson:
Thank you for your November 14, 2014, letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Directorate of Standards and Guidance regarding the requirements of the OSHA's Hazard Communication standard, 29 CFR 1910.1200. Your letter was referred to OSHA's Directorate of Enforcement Programs for a response. A member of my staff subsequently contacted your point of contact, Ms. Theresa Forbes, Manager of Regulatory Affairs for the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD), to further discuss NACD's questions. This reply letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements discussed and may not be applicable to any question not detailed in your original correspondence and subsequent discussions. After a summary of the background information you provided, your paraphrased questions and our replies are below.
Background: In an effort to comply with OSHA's revised Hazard Communication standard [77 Fed. Reg. 17574 (Mar. 26, 2012)] (HCS 2012), NACD member companies have purchased label stock that includes four, pre-printed, empty pictograms, each with a red frame and a white background, which are subsequently printed over with product-specific and HCS-required hazard symbols and pictogram elements, which conform to the United Nations' (UN) Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).
However, NACD member companies understand that HCS 2012 does not allow the use of blank red frames on labels. In 29 CFR 1910.1200, Appendix C, Allocation of Label Elements (Mandatory), C.2.3.1 states, "A square red frame set at a point without a hazard symbol is not a pictogram and is not permitted on the label." Therefore, for chemical products needing less than four pictograms, the unused frames on the label are currently being completely covered with large black diamonds, as suggested in OSHA's letter of interpretation to Mr. Gary Valasek, December 20, 2012.
When following this accommodation, NACD members are concerned that the black "cover-up" diamonds have the potential to cause their downstream customers to question whether the label has been defaced. Additionally, printing black diamonds over the pre-printed labels is difficult to print and to align properly, resulting in costs incurred because of discarded label stocks and other printing costs. NACD suggests an alternate labeling method to just print the words, "Intentionally Blank," or "No GHS Pictogram," over any unused red frame(s). This solution was proposed in informal document 7 (INF.7) at the 25th session of the UN Economic and Social Council's Sub-Committee of Experts on the GHS. 1
Question 1: Does OSHA's Hazard Communication standard (HCS 2012) permit a chemical manufacturer, importer, or distributor to print multiple pictograms on the chemical label, with one or more unused pictograms, each with an empty red frame on a white background and the phrase, "Intentionally Blank," or, "No GHS Pictogram," or other similarly-phrased text in black lettering inside the frame?
Reply: No, HCS 2012 does not allow the use of blank red frames on labels. OSHA also does not permit words (e.g., "Intentionally Blank" or "No GHS Pictogram") to indicate that the red frame has been intentionally left blank. As the HCS 2012 explained in 29 CFR 1910.1200, Appendix C, Allocation of Label Elements (Mandatory), C.2.3.1, "A square red frame set at a point without a hazard symbol is not a pictogram and is not permitted on the label." As OSHA explained in the preamble to the final rule, blank red frames that are marked to indicate that they have been intentionally left blank contribute to clutter on the label and distract from the primary message. 77 Fed. Reg. at 17700.
Additionally, the UN Economic and Social Council's Sub-Committee of Experts on the GHS (UN/SCEGHS), which you mentioned as the source of your suggested solution, considered the alternatives to empty pictogram frames proposed in INF.7, but ultimately did not support their use on chemical labels for products shipped internationally. 2
Question 2: What are U.S. importers to do when receiving chemical products from other countries labeled with empty pictogram frames saying, "Intentionally Blank,"" or otherwise compliant with the UN/SCEGHS/25/INF.7?
Reply: U.S. manufacturers, importers, and responsible parties are required to classify the hazards of chemicals they produce or import and ensure that the chemicals' labels and safety data sheets comply with the HCS. 29 CFR 1910.1200(b)(1), (d), (f), (g). Specifically, paragraph (f) requires:
- 29 CFR 1910.1200(f) Labels and other forms of warning (1) Labels on shipped containers. The chemical manufacturer, importer, or distributor shall ensure that each container of hazardous chemicals leaving the workplace is labeled, tagged, or marked. Hazards not otherwise classified do not have to be addressed on the container. Where the chemical manufacturer or importer is required to label, tag or mark the following information shall be provided: (i) Product identifier; (ii) Signal word; (iii) Hazard statement(s); (iv) Pictogram(s); (v) Precautionary statement(s); and, (vi) Name, address, and telephone number of the chemical manufacturer, importer, or other responsible party. (2) The chemical manufacturer, importer, or distributor shall ensure that the information provided under paragraphs (f)(1)(i) through (v) of this section is in accordance with Appendix C to 1910.1200...
As explained above, Appendix C, C.2.3.1 prohibits the use of a square red frame without a hazard symbol. Therefore, if an importer receives a chemical that has a label with an empty pictogram, the importer may either prepare a new HCS 2012-compliant label or just blacken the empty pictogram frame, as explained in OSHA's letter of interpretation to Mr. Gary Valasek, December 20, 2012. Additionally, as stated in the reply to Question 1, labels with blank pictograms have not been approved by the UN/SCEGHS.
Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. We hope you find this information helpful. OSHA's requirements are set by statute, standards, and regulations. Our letters of interpretation do not create new or additional requirements but rather explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. From time to time, letters are affected when the Agency updates a standard, a legal decision impacts a standard, or changes in technology affect the interpretation. To assure that you are using the correct information and guidance, please consult OSHA's website at www.osha.gov. If you have further questions, please feel free to contact the Office of Health Enforcement at (202) 693-2190.
Thomas Galassi, Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs
1UN/SCEGHS/25/INF.7 (DGAC) - Practical alternatives to empty pictogram frames. http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/trans/doc/2013/dgac10c4/UN-SCEGHS-25-INF7.pdf*.
2ST/SG/AC.10/C.4/50 - (Secretariat) Report of the Sub-Committee of Experts on the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals on its twenty-fifth session (1 - 3 July 2013). http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/trans/doc/2013/dgac10c4/ST-SG-AC10-50e.pdf*.
*Accessibility Assistance: Contact the OSHA Directorate of Enforcement Programs at (202) 693-2129 for assistance accessing PDF materials.