On May 20th, 2024, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced a final rule updating the current Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). Specifically, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created the update to better protect workers. Explicitly, the changes improve the information on labels and safety data sheets (SDSs). This will allow workers and first responders to react quickly in an emergency. Previously, the DOL announced future changes to the structure of OSHA regional operations to direct its resources more effectively. Such changes will help the agency better investigate workplace hazard complaints.

Overview of the Hazard Communication Standard

Markedly, to ensure chemical safety in the workplace, information about possible chemical hazards must be available and understandable to workers. OSHA’s HCS requires the development and dissemination of that information:

  • Chemical manufacturers and importers must evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import. They must also prepare labels and safety data sheets (SDSs) to convey the hazard information to their downstream customers.
  • All employers with hazardous chemicals in their workplaces must have labels and SDSs for exposed workers. Those workers must be trained on how to handle the chemicals appropriately.

Previously, the HCS was updated in 2012 to align with the third revision of the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). The update was made to provide a common and coherent approach to classifying chemicals and communicating hazard information globally.

Hazard Communication Standard Updates

Presently, the latest HCS updates align primarily with the seventh revision of the United Nations’ GHS. In particular, the updated standard requires labels on small packaging to be more comprehensive and readable. The updates also ensure trade secrets no longer prevent workers and first responders from receiving critical hazard information on SDSs.

Additionally, workers will benefit from other changes, including:

  • updated physical hazard classes to better inform about the safe handling of explosives, aerosols, and chemicals under pressure; and
  • revised precautionary statements on safely handling, storing, and disposing of hazardous chemicals.

Employer Takeaways

In conclusion, the latest updates to the Hazard Communication Standard will affect workplaces that currently house or use chemicals. All employers who must comply with the HCS should review the final rule and prepare for any changes. Such changes could include receiving updated Safety Data Sheets from chemical providers and retraining workers on updates to label instructions. Indeed, OSHA’s final rule takes effect on July 19th, 2024.