Washington Update

Washington Update: Updating hazcom, again

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OSHA may soon update its Hazard Communication Standard to align it with the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals.

Wait – didn’t OSHA just do this?

Yes. Although the agency’s 2012 update to its hazcom rule is still in the process of being fully implemented (see GHS: The look of things to come), OSHA is already looking toward another update.

The “long-term actions” section of the agency’s fall semiannual regulatory agenda, published Nov. 21, included an abstract outlining a potential update to the hazcom standard. OSHA has not determined what regulatory action it may take, nor has it decided when such actions may occur – although placement on the long-term action list means the proposal likely won’t see any regulatory action for at least a year.

Why would OSHA consider an update so soon after the previous one?

An employer’s hazard communication program needs to be alive – changing and adapting to workplaces as new hazards emerge. The same is true for GHS and OSHA’s rule.

“The agency must continually review the GHS to keep it updated as issues arise,” said Aaron Trippler, director of government affairs for the American Industrial Hygiene Association in Falls Church, VA.

As OSHA says in its abstract, GHS is a “living document” and has been revised five times previously. The U.N. is currently working on its sixth revised edition of GHS; OSHA’s hazcom standard is based on the third edition. Most of the recent changes the U.N. implemented were minor. However, the next revised GHS edition – expected sometime this year – might include more significant changes.

Specifically, the U.N. is considering new hazard categories that will include desensitized explosives and pyrophoric gases. Desensitized explosives are substances that can be wetted, diluted or dissolved to suppress or reduce some of the explosive properties, and pyrophoric gases can spontaneously ignite without heat or fire. OSHA is considering adding these categories to its hazcom rule in light of the revised GHS edition.

For the stakeholders and OSHA-watchers who have long criticized the agency’s pace on updating its standards, the proposal may be welcome. However, other stakeholders could find the move disconcerting. In an email to me on the issue, the American Chemistry Council expressed concerns about OSHA proposing new changes while employers are still working hard to come into compliance with the most recent revisions.

“ACC supports the goal of harmonizing GHS requirements around the world, and in particular with the approaches taken by major trading partners,” the Washington-based trade organization said. “We would have concerns, however, over any proposals to change the 2012 Hazard Communication Standard before it is even implemented.”

The group’s hope is that the current standard is fully implemented before any changes are contemplated. This will likely be the case, given the last effective date for the current OSHA rule is mid-2016 and the U.N. update isn’t even out yet. Plus, while OSHA’s 2012 rule was fast-tracked, it still took six years to be promulgated.

The opinions expressed in “Washington Update” do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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