Workplace Solutions Chemical safety Hazard communication

HazCom: Chemicals from foreign suppliers

Are HazCom-covered businesses permitted to use and distribute chemicals purchased from foreign suppliers?


Responding is Kirk Nelson, systems administrator of MSDSonline authoring services, and Nick Stone, MSDSonline regulatory specialist, VelocityEHS, Chicago.

Although U.S. businesses covered by the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (1910.1200) are permitted to use, store or distribute chemicals purchased from foreign suppliers, they must ensure the chemicals’ corresponding Safety Data Sheets are compliant.

A recent OSHA Letter of Interpretation published in direct response to questions submitted by VelocityEHS’ MSDS-online authoring services team provides guidance on this topic. The three key SDS compliance issues for foreign-bought chemicals, as noted in the LOI, are:

Non-U.S.-based contact information in Section 1 of the SDS. Under the current GHS-aligned HazCom Standard, Section 1 of the SDS must include the domestic contact information (including name, address and telephone number) of the chemical manufacturer, importer or other responsible party. It also must include an emergency phone number. OSHA specifically mandates that this address be located in the United States and the phone numbers be domestic numbers. Companies using, storing or distributing chemicals bought outside the United States are encouraged to review their SDSs for U.S. HazCom compliance, and replace any foreign contacts listed in Section 1 as the primary contact with one that is based in the United States.

Chemical hazards indicated on foreign SDSs (and labels) may not align with OSHA hazard criteria. OSHA has set forth physical and health hazard classification criteria in Appendixes A-B of the Hazard Communication Standard that determine what specific hazard information must be included on SDSs and labels. This criteria may subtly differ from other nations’ hazard classification criteria, and it’s highly unlikely that foreign suppliers’ SDSs will fully meet OSHA requirements. U.S. companies that purchase chemicals from foreign suppliers need to verify that chemical hazards indicated on SDSs and labels are classified according to OSHA hazard criteria and a HazCom-compliant SDS was provided with the shipment. If not, the importer is obligated to reclassify the chemicals’ hazards and author a new SDS.

The use of “hybrid” SDSs and labels. The LOI states that companies can use U.S.-Canadian (HCS, WHMIS 2015) “hybrid” SDSs and labels as long as they’re compliant with all the required elements of Canada’s hazard communication regulations and OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard. Any supplemental information (e.g., foreign country information) included on the SDSs and labels must not contradict any of the information required under the Hazard Communication Standard.

An important distinction misunderstood by many U.S. companies and identified by the LOI is that OSHA designates the individual or company that imports a hazardous chemical into the country as the “responsible party” for that chemical – meaning the individual or company is responsible for ensuring accurate classifications and compliant SDSs and labels. Unlike a distinction made under Health Canada’s WHMIS 2015 standard, the company listed as the “responsible party,” its phone number and the emergency phone number must all be from the United States, even if the chemical in question will be fully used at the importer’s workplace.

As a first step to ensuring compliance, importers need to review all SDSs received from foreign suppliers, verify they meet OSHA Hazard Communication Standard requirements and be ready to assume responsibility for those SDSs if they chose not to author their own. If the foreign supplier provides a HazCom-compliant SDS, the responsible party is allowed to use it as its own with its domestic address and phone numbers added. However, it’s a real possibility that SDSs for chemicals manufactured and bought from outside the United States will not meet OSHA’s requirements, at which point the responsible party must author a new one.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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