Understanding the New OSHA Hazard Communication Standard

Communication is a pretty important concept regardless of what we’re communicating but it gets even more critical when we’re talking about something as important as chemical safety.  And since chemical safety is a worldwide concern — and not just an issue that affects workers in America — OSHA has made some changes to its standard to bring the United States into alignment with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS).

The GHS, also known as The Purple Book, is an international approach to hazard communication that provides agreed upon criteria for the classification of chemical hazards, as well as a standardized approach to the labeling of elements and safety data sheets.  The idea is to ensure that workers fully understand the chemicals they are handling.

The modification to the OSHA standard is expected to prevent over 500 workplace injuries and illness, as well as 43 fatalities.

The OSHA update provides a common and coherent approach to classifying chemicals and communicating hazard information on labels and safety data sheets.  The updates are designed to increase the level of safety in the workplace by improving the quality and consistency of hazard information.  It’s also designed to reduce trade barriers and result in productivity improvements for American businesses that regularly handle, store, and use hazardous chemicals.

There are four major changes to the Hazard Communication Standard.

  • Hazard classification: Provides specific criteria for classification of health and physical hazards, as well as classification of mixtures.
  • Labels: Chemical manufacturers and importers will be required to provide a label that includes a harmonized signal word, pictogram, and hazard statement for each hazard class and category.  Precautionary statements must also be provided.
  • Safety Data Sheets: Will now have a specified 16-section format.
  • Information and training: Employers are required to train workers by December 1, 2013 on the new labels elements and safety data sheets format to facilitate recognition and understanding.

According to OSHA, the new standard covers over 43 million workers who produce or handle hazardous chemicals in more than five million workplaces across the country.  It enhances worker comprehension of hazards, especially for low and limited literacy workers, and provides quicker and more efficient access to information on safety data sheets.

To summarize: The enhancements to the OSHA standard will result in less hazard-related confusion in the workplace, better safety training, and safer handling and use of chemicals.

To find out more, please visit OSHA’s fact sheet here: