Anticipating OSHA’s Upcoming HCS Update

The delay in releasing OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) update wasn’t all that surprising. Instead of the anticipated February 2019 release, rulemaking is now on the December 2019 agenda. What follows is a quick overview of the HCS, why it’s important, and what employers can expect when the new HCS is released at the end of the year.

The OSHA HCS that’s currently in place was created in 2012 to bring US practices in line with the GHS – The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. The GHS is a system developed by the United Nations in the 1990s to simplify international trade, as well as to strengthen global efforts to manage and handle chemicals in a more environmentally sound way. It was released in 2000 and represented a truly inspiring level of international cooperation. As of 2017, GHS has been adopted — to varying degrees — by most countries around the world.

Before the GHS, there were often different understandings about what constitutes a hazard, how hazards are defined, and what information needs to be included on labels. Also, trading partners could have laws and regulations that were very similar, but different enough to require multiple labels and safety data sheets for the same product every time it crossed a border.

Nations and other entities that adopt the GHS have the flexibility to choose what elements work best within their specific regulatory environment. OSHA, for example, may not embrace all aspects of a particular GHS revision, and may also include provisions that are specific to the United States.

So why is this update so important? The primary reason is that the GHS has been revised several times since 2012. Current OSHA standards are based on GHS Rev 3, and GHS Rev 8 was just published this past spring.

If the goal is to bring OSHA in line with the most current GHS, then it makes a lot of sense to delay the release and include relevant GHS Rev 8 content in OSHA’s new standard. The work has been massive and spans several years. It has involved not only the incorporation of amendments and content from five different GHS revisions but also the alignment of this new material with the regulatory structures at OSHA and other federal agencies.

Beyond the obvious, I’m not making any specific predictions about what the new HCS will include. It’s realistic to expect changes in hazard categories as well as multiple clarifications in how certain health hazard classes are defined — but beyond that, we’ll just have to wait a few more weeks for the details.

In the meantime, if you operate in an industry that’s covered by the HCS, it’s important to do everything you can to comply. This year hazard communication violations are at #2 of OSHA’s Top 10 violations list for the ninth straight year, with 3,671 violations (preliminary figures, through August 15, 2019).

If you have any questions about the HCS and compliance — or if you’ve received a hazard communication citation — feel free to contact me.

About the Author: James Laboe

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