OSHA Updates Hazard Communication Standard

June 10, 2024
A final rule updating OSHA’s hazard communication standard (HCS) will go into effect on July 19, 2024, the agency announced on May 20. According to OSHA’s press release, the new rule is intended to improve the amount and quality of information on chemical product labels and safety data sheets (SDSs) and help workers and first responders act more quickly in emergencies. Labels on small packaging must be more comprehensive and readable under the updated standard, and trade secrets will no longer prevent SDSs from including critical hazard information, OSHA states. Other changes include a clearer hazard classification process; updated hazard classes that aim to better inform users about explosives, aerosols, and chemicals under pressure; and updated precautionary statements on safe handling, storage, and disposal of hazardous chemicals.
According to the Federal Register’s summary, “the revisions in this final rule will enhance the effectiveness of the HCS by ensuring employees are appropriately apprised of the chemical hazards to which they may be exposed, thus reducing the incidence of chemical-related occupational illnesses and injuries.”
The update will harmonize the HCS with the seventh revision of the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), an international approach to hazard communication. The GHS provides “a unified classification system of chemicals based on their physical and health-related hazards,” the Federal Register states. The seventh revision of the GHS was published in 2017. As the U.N. updates the GHS every two years, the 10th revision, published in 2023, is its most current version. OSHA’s HCS was last updated in 2012 to align with the third revision of the GHS.
One anonymous commenter quoted in the Register explained the rationale for aligning the HCS with the GHS. “Globally harmonizing the system for classification and labeling across a big part of the world was also beneficial as it provided consistency, and more simplicity, especially for foreign products utilized domestically,” the commenter wrote. Many of the U.S.’s major trading partners have aligned or are planning to align their chemical regulations with Revision 7 of the GHS.
The Register adds that some of the updates to the HCS address areas where the 2012 standard was unclear, such as the provisions on small container labels and concentration ranges for trade secrets. OSHA has issued several letters of interpretation clarifying these provisions. The updates concerning small container labels and concentration ranges also align with Canada’s Hazardous Products Regulations, improving regulatory coordination and transparency between Canada and the U.S.
Since the HCS was first introduced in the 1980s, OSHA planned to periodically update the standard “to keep pace with the advancement of scientific principles underlying the hazard determination process as well as improvements in communication systems,” the Register states. The agency announced the most recent update to the standard in a notice of proposed rulemaking issued in February 2021. Stakeholder feedback was collected via an extended public comment period and an informal hearing in September of that year.
A side-by-side comparison of the HCS may be viewed on here.
EPA Proposes Requirements to Protect Workers from Toxic Solvent N-Methylpyrrolidone
The EPA announced a proposed rule under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that would protect workers and consumers from exposure to the solvent n-methylpyrrolidone (NMP). EPA’s 2020 risk evaluation found that this chemical causes serious health effects, including miscarriages and reduced fertility, as well as damage to the liver, kidneys, immune system and nervous system. If finalized, the rule would limit the concentration of NMP that would be allowed in some consumer and commercial products, establish strict workplace health controls for many uses of NMP, and ban some uses that cannot safely continue and for which alternatives already exist.
“We’re making great strides in our efforts to protect people’s health from exposure to chemicals like NMP,” said Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Michal Freedhoff. “Our proposed commonsense worker protections would keep people safe while also ensuring that NMP could continue to be used, as needed.”
NMP is used to manufacture and produce many electronics, polymers, agricultural chemicals and petrochemical products. It is used in the production of specialized electronics, such as semi-conductors and magnet wire, as well as lithium-ion batteries used in a wide variety of applications, including aerospace vehicles and electronic devices. NMP also has numerous other industrial, commercial and consumer applications, including adhesives and sealants, paints and coatings, paint removers, lubricants, automotive care products, degreasers, cleaning and furniture care products.
To protect consumers from exposure to NMP in glues and adhesives, EPA is proposing a NMP concentration limit of no greater than 45%, as well as container size limits and labeling requirements for other types of consumer products so that they are not used in commercial settings where their more frequent use could pose risks.
EPA is also proposing a NMP Workplace Chemical Protection Program (WCPP) to protect workers from exposure to NMP for nearly all industrial and commercial uses. The WCPP would include requirements to prevent direct skin contact with NMP that would go into effect a year after the rule is finalized. EPA expects that many sectors, including the semiconductor and lithium-ion battery manufacturing sectors, have already implemented the types of exposure controls in their facilities that EPA would require. For example, semiconductor manufacturing fabrication machines, enclosed and automated tools, and clean rooms are some of the exposure controls already in place which EPA expects would meet the requirements of the rule. For several other occupational conditions of use of NMP (such as its use in paints, adhesives, inks, coatings and soldering materials), EPA proposes to require prescriptive workplace controls, including concentration limits and use of personal protective equipment.
EPA is proposing to ban the commercial use of NMP in automotive care products, cleaning and degreasing products, metal products and cleaning and furniture care products because EPA believes these uses cannot safely continue. EPA is also proposing to ban the use of NMP in antifreeze, de-icing products and lubricants because it believes these uses have already ceased. The proposed rule would also ban the commercial use of NMP in fertilizers and other agricultural chemical manufacturing processes because EPA does not currently have information demonstrating that they could be safely continued. For these uses, EPA believes that such information may exist, and EPA expects to conduct proactive outreach during the comment period to better understand industrial practices associated with these uses.
EPA encourages members of the public and stakeholders to read and comment on the proposed rule. EPA has and will continue to engage with industry stakeholders on the proposed rule. The agency is especially interested in hearing perspectives from the public on the feasibility and effectiveness of the proposed requirements for worker protections, including from workers and entities that would be required to implement the workplace protections or from entities that believe they can feasibly implement the workplace protections.
Pallet Manufacturer Failed to Train Employees, Address Machine Safety Hazards
Federal investigators have concluded that an Appleton, Wisconsin, pallet manufacturer's failure to train employees in machine safety procedures — and ensure the procedures were followed — contributed to the fatal injuries suffered by a 57-year-old employee struck by the carriage of a lumber stacking machine in late 2023.
Investigators with OSHA responded to a report of a worker fatality at Konz Wood Products on Dec. 5, 2023, and learned the company had not made sure the machine was locked out to prevent movement while the employee removed a board jammed in the machine. As he freed the board, the metal carriage moved, striking him and causing severe crushing injuries.
The stacker machine's metal carriage moves boards onto pallets for transport, pushing and lowering each row of wood onto a pallet upon completion.
The fatal incident marked the fifth opening of an inspection since 2016 at Konz's Appleton plant. The agency cited the company in 2019 after inspectors identified four serious violations, including one related to required lockout/tagout procedures and another related to lack of fall protection.
“Federal safety procedures protect workers from the dangers of coming in contact with moving machine parts, but when employers fail to train workers or ensure procedures are followed, workers are at risk for serious or fatal injuries,” said OSHA Area Director Robert Bonack in Appleton, Wisconsin. “Konz Wood Products and Wisconsin's entire lumber and wood products industry must work to improve employee safety by guarding machines during normal production and locking out and tagging equipment during the maintenance.”
Federal lockout/tagout procedures are required by law to disable machinery or equipment to prevent the release of hazardous energy while employees perform servicing and maintenance activities.
OSHA inspectors issued Konz Wood Products two repeat violations for lacking lockout/tagout procedures and failing to provide fall protection when employees worked above dangerous machinery. In addition, the agency cited the company for 15 serious violations for lack of point-of-operation and machine guarding on table saws, band saws, shaft ends and chains and sprockets. Inspectors also noted a lack of fall protection — including missing staircase handrails — electrical hazards and oxygen tanks stored unsafely.
Portland Company Fined $139,000 for Clean Air Act Violations 
The EPA recently announced East Side Plating, Inc. of Portland, Oregon, will pay $139,505 for violations of the Clean Air Act
During 2022 inspections, EPA found East Side Plating failed to comply with Clean Air Act requirements applicable to electroplating operations at the facility. 
Specifically, East Side Plating violated the following requirements: 
  • Failed to install covers on its nickel-plating tanks 
  • Failed to implement good housekeeping practices that reduce emissions 
  • Failed to keep records of fume suppressant chemical additions to electroplating tanks 
  • Failed to measure the amount of electricity used by individual electroplating tanks 
Electroplating is a type of metal finishing operation that changes the surface properties of a metal part to make it stronger, shinier and corrosion resistant. Electroplating operations can produce emissions of hazardous air pollutants, including heavy metals like cadmium, lead, manganese, and nickel. While federal, state and local regulations limit the amount of emissions from electroplating shops, dangerous releases of toxic air pollutants can occur if an electroplating shop is out of compliance.  
East Side Plating corrected all issues identified by EPA. 
“Businesses need to comply with the law,” said EPA Region 10 Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Director Ed Kowalski. “By evaluating and improving work practices, shops can decrease emissions, reduce production costs, and protect employee and public health.” 
This action is part of a national enforcement and compliance initiative Reducing Air Toxics.  
Additional details can be found in the Consent Agreement and Final Order
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