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Changes In Chemical Management Part 2: GHS Training Deadline Is Now!

Some might question why OSHA wants employees trained on the changes a year and half before chemical manufacturers and distributors have to make them, and the answer is because OSHA wants employees familiar with new label elements and the new safety data sheet format before they encounter them in the workplace.

This is the second installment of a three part series on changes in chemical management. Part one, “OSHA Adopts GHS” outlined major changes OSHA recently made to its Hazard Communication Standard (HazCom or HCS) through its adoption of the United Nation’s Globally Harmonized System (GHS). (Find Part I here). The changes affect every employer with employees exposed to hazardous chemicals. This week focuses on helping employers meet the first compliance deadline, December 1, 2013.

Note: OSHA refers to the new HazCom Standard (post GHS alignment) as HazCom 2012. It refers to the old HazCom Standard (pre GHS alignment) as HazCom 1994. This article does the same.

A Time to Train

OSHA’s revised HazCom Standard has four key deadlines as detailed in Table 1:



Compliance Requirements

Dec. 1, 2013


Train employees on new labels elements and safety data sheet formats

June 1, 2015

Chemical Manufacturers, Distributors, Employers

Reclassify chemicals using adopted GHS criteria, update labels and safety data sheets

Dec. 1, 2015


Cease shipping chemicals with manufacturer labels in the HazCom 1994 format

June 1, 2016


Update hazcom programs and secondary container labeling systems as necessary, train employees on newly identified hazards

Table 1

The first deadline, December 1, 2013, is just weeks away and focuses on training employees who are exposed to hazardous chemicals in the workplace on important updates to safety data sheets and labels.

Some might question why OSHA wants employees trained on the changes a year and half before chemical manufacturers and distributors have to make them, and the answer is because OSHA wants employees familiar with new label elements and the new safety data sheet format before they encounter them in the workplace. There is nothing preventing chemical manufacturers or distributors from making the changes now and in fact, many safety data sheets and labels in the GHS style are already in the marketplace.

This first round of training is not intended to be comprehensive on all things HazCom. OSHA’s expectation is that employees have already been trained on HazCom in general and on the specific hazards of the chemicals to which they’re exposed. This first deadline is only about getting employees familiar with the basic label and safety data sheet changes; as such, OSHA believes this training can be done swiftly.

Following is a brief summation of the training considerations OSHA outlines on its website and HazCom 2012 related briefs.


There are two types of labels under the HazCom Standard, 1) labels on shipped containers and 2) workplace labels or secondary container labels. Under HazCom 1994, compliance for both were performance based, meaning OSHA decided whether a label was compliant based on how effectively it performed. While this approach gave label preparers greater flexibility, it also created a lot of confusion and ambiguity in terms of compliance.

With HazCom 2012, OSHA moves to a more prescriptive and specific approach to labels on shipped containers, requiring six elements for which it provides considerable guidance based on new GHS based chemical classifications. The six required elements are as follows:

  1. Product Identifier – Chemical name, code number, or batch number that matches the same on the safety data sheet in section 1.
  2. Supplier Information – Name, address, phone number of the chemical manufacturer, importer, or other responsible party.
  3. Signal Words – Words that indicate the level of severity of the chemical. There are two signal words, “Danger” and “Warning,” only one of which appears on the label as a signal word at a time.
  4. Pictograms – Black hazard symbols, on white backgrounds, with red diamond borders set on a point. Pictograms are used to quickly and visually communicate specific information about chemical hazards. The United Nations created nine pictograms; however, OSHA only mandates the use of eight of them. One UN pictogram is used for environmental hazards, which is outside of OSHA’s jurisdiction.
  5. Hazard Statements – Short descriptions as to the nature of a hazard and, when appropriate, the degree of a hazard.
  6. Precautionary Statements – Recommended guidance for minimizing or preventing exposure. There are four types of precautionary statements: prevention, response, storage, and disposal.

By December 1, employees exposed to hazardous chemicals in the workplace should have an understanding of these six elements as well as an understanding that shipped labels can also include supplemental information (e.g., personal protective equipment (PPEs), expiration dates, fill dates, ingredient percentages).

Additionally, employees should understand the relationship between chemical classification and labels and how the information for similar hazards will be more uniform across labels regardless of the products or manufacturers. This is because once a chemical is classified, OSHA provides the specific language for communicating the hazard on labels and safety data sheets, meaning employees should basically be seeing the exact same wording and phrases across labels and safety data sheets.

By December 1, OSHA would also like employers to cover how employees can use labels in the workplace to ensure proper storage or, in the case of an emergency, to access critical safety information.

Employees should also be given an understanding of how the label elements work together. For example, a chemical with multiple hazards will have multiple pictograms, and in some cases hazard statements and/or precautionary statements may be combined in the interest of space; and in those cases, there is an order of precedence to ensure the most protective information is conveyed.

When it comes to workplace or secondary container labels, created by the employer for use on site, OSHA is maintaining its performance based approach. Employers have three basic options:

One, they can replicate the six standardized elements for the shipped label on the workplace container. Two, they can use some combination of the six elements, which in addition to robust training, achieves the same effect as the shipped label. Three, employers can continue to use their own home-grown system so long as it was compliant with HazCom 1994 and so long as it takes into account the new HazCom 1994 classifications and successfully conveys all of the necessary hazard information to employees. A good electronic safety data sheet solution makes the creation of GHS styled workplace labels easy to produce using information indexed from sections 1 and 2 of the safety data sheet.

Unchanged from HazCom 1994 is the requirement that labels be in English. Other languages are permitted in addition to English, but are not required. Also, labels that are missing or become defaced must be immediately replaced. 

Safety Data Sheets

Under HazCom 1994, safety data sheets were known as MSDSs, which is short for Material Safety Data Sheets. Under HazCom 2012, the M for materials is retired and safety data sheets are called SDSs for short. And to reiterate from part one, whether called an MSDS or SDS, the function of the document remains the same – to convey robust hazard information to the downstream users of chemicals.

A more important change to safety data sheets is that under HazCom 2012 they get a new format. Safety data sheets under HazCom 1994 came in a variety of numbered sections, with no prescribed order for how information was ordered. With GHS adoption, OSHA puts an end to the variability by mandating 16 sections in a strict order.

Going forward, no matter the manufacturer or product, safety data sheets will need to provide the same kind of information in the same order. Even the headings are prescribed. The sixteen sections in the following order are prescribed by HazCom 2012:

Section 1, Identification

Section 2, Hazard(s) Identification

Section 3, Composition/Information on Ingredients

Section 4, First-aid Measures

Section 5, Fire-Fighting Measures

Section 6, Accidental Release Measures

Section 7, Handling and Storage

Section 8, Exposure Controls / Personal Protection

Section 9, Physical and Chemical Properties

Section 10, Stability and Reactivity

Section 11, Toxicological Information

Section 12, Ecological Information

Section 13, Disposal Considerations

Section 14, Transport Considerations

Section 15, Regulatory Information

Section 16, Other Information

By December 1, OSHA expects employees to understand the ordering of the sections and what kind of information they will find in each. Furthermore, employees should understand how sections 1 and 2 of the new safety data sheet corresponds to the information on shipped labels. They should also be familiar with the structure of the new format and how information most important in an emergency is up front in sections 1-8 while more technical information is found in sections 9-16.

Additionally, employees should know that sections 12-15, while mandatory from a heading and ordering perspective, contain information that is outside of OSHA’s jurisdiction and will not be enforced by OSHA. 

Employer responsibilities related to safety data sheets that are not changing include the requirement that SDSs be readily accessible to employees and that the SDS be in English. Other languages, in addition to English, are allowed.

Other Training Considerations

OSHA does require training to be conducted in a language employees understand, and employers should consider the education and literacy levels of employees. Training must also be effective; in other words, employees must be able to demonstratively use their learning on the job. Documentation of training is not required, though strongly recommended by OSHA. The agency encourages the collection of the following:

  • Title of lesson
  • Date of presentation
  • Learning objectives
  • Training program outline
  • Names of participants, with an identifier such as Social Security number
  • Names of instructors
  • Data, such as test results, to demonstrate that objectives were met

Part three of this series will look at best practices for overall HazCom 2012 compliance and how new web-based solutions are changing the landscape of chemical management, making it easier to track and report on chemicals and move toward a green and sustainable chemical footprint.

About the Author

Glenn D. Trout is the president of MSDSonline, a leading provider of on-demand compliance solutions for tracking and managing hazardous chemicals and safety data sheets, GHS compliance, and other critical environmental, health and safety (EH&S) information. Online at or toll-free at 888-362-2007.

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