Businesses Prepare To Meet Coming OSHA Hazmat Mandate

 - October 2, 2013, 12:10 AM
Hazmat manufacturers have until mid-2015 to begin using the new pictogram symbols on their products.

In an effort to align its standards with much of the world, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued changes in the way it will require the labeling of hazardous materials in the future. These changes will conform to the U.N. standard or globally harmonized systems of classification and labeling of chemicals (GHS) and will affect all U.S. aircraft operators and service providers. They involve a series of new pictograms on the labels of potentially hazardous chemicals as well as a new format for safety data sheets that must accompany all hazardous chemicals.

While manufacturers have until mid-2015 to begin using the new symbols on their products, business consumers of those products face a more imminent deadline. By December 1, employers are required to have trained their workers on the changes. Historically there were no firm rules for what a label or material safety data sheet should look like or how information was presented, but according to OSHA this update to the hazard communication standard “will provide a common and coherent approach to classifying chemicals and communicating hazard information on labels and safety data sheets,” while simultaneously improving the quality and consistency of hazard information in the workplace.

“The hazard warnings will now be the same regardless of who produces [the material] or where it is produced,” said Dr. David Michaels, OSHA’s assistant secretary of labor. “Even more important, the message is the same regardless of who sees it. Workers in the United States…and eventually workers worldwide…will have the same, simple, concise information they need to understand how to prevent injuries and illnesses…and save lives. Nothing could be more important than that.”

As an added benefit, OSHA said the update will also help reduce trade barriers and result in productivity improvements for American businesses that regularly handle, store and use hazardous chemicals while at the same time provide cost savings for companies that periodically update safety data sheets and labels for chemicals covered under the hazard communication standard. Each new symbol now represents uniform organization and classification systems for chemicals that spell out their potential hazards and protections.

NATA Training Option

The employee training mandate is not limited to aviation (where the mere handling of aviation fuel is considered hazardous) but extends to all U.S. businesses, encompassing approximately 30 million workers nationwide. “Any aviation business or beyond that has employees who could be exposed to a hazardous chemical or who work with a hazardous chemical has to train its employees on this change so that they can begin to recognize these new symbols and label formats,” said Mike France, director of safety and training with the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), noting that the new symbols could start appearing on packaging as early as next year.

Such training appears to be necessary. According to the safety agency, even before the adoption of the new standard, hazmat communications were one of its most cited violation categories among employers. “Most businesses that handle some type of chemical…have their material safety sheets and employees know where to find them, but often the employer isn’t aware of all the little things it is supposed to have done,” France told AIN. “As with any government requirement, there are some steps you’ve got to take, and if you don’t have all the Is dotted and Ts crossed you would still be in violation.”

NATA provides a hazard communication module as part of its Safety 1st Online Training program, which has been updated to include the latest OSHA guidelines. “The first thing you have to do as a business if you are handling a hazardous chemical is have a written plan,” said France, adding it should contain an inventory of all the hazardous chemicals the company keeps at that facility. “You need a policy for who is responsible for making sure the company is complying with its plan; you need a container labeling regime; and you need a materials safety data sheet process.” Such information is necessary to fulfill workers’ rights to know what chemicals they are working with and how they can get information about them.

“We give them the basics. Here’s what the standard is, here’s what you’ve got to have, and here are the new elements,” said France.