Final OSHA Rule Published on Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals


March 26, 2012, the Federal Register published OSHA’s final Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS).  With this rule OSHA has modified its Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) to be consistent with to the United Nations’ System. 

GHS Requirements

OSHA estimates that 880,000 hazardous chemicals are currently used in the U.S., and over 40 million employees are now potentially exposed to hazardous chemicals in over 5 million workplaces.  Approximately 75,000 firms create hazardous chemicals (i.e., products, substances, or mixtures) for which new labels and ‘safety data sheets’ (formerly material safety data sheets) will be required.

OSHA explains that implementation of the GHS will improve HCS by changing the performance requirements for labels to the GHS-specific requirements that labels include four standardized elements: a signal word; hazard statement(s); pictogram(s); and precautionary statement(s).  The appropriate label elements for a chemical are to be determined by the hazard classification.  Standardized label elements will better convey critically important hazard warnings, and provide useful information regarding precautionary measures that will serve to better protect employees than the performance-oriented approach of the current rule. 

Chemical manufacturers and importers will be required to re-evaluate chemicals according to the GHS criteria.  Chemicals must be classified based on the type and degree of hazards posed.  For health hazards, this will involve assigning the chemical both to the appropriate hazard category and subcategory (called hazard class).  For physical hazards new criteria are generally consistent with current DOT transportation requirements.  Preparation and distribution of modified labels and safety data sheets by chemical manufacturers and importers will also be required. 


The rule adopts only sections of the GHS within the scope of OSHA jurisdiction.  DOT, CPSC and EPA will implement GHS at a later date.  EPA and OSHA have worked together to develop a common position on coverage of pesticides and chemicals.  The GHS will not require additional labels on pesticides labeled under EPA requirements; that is, the final products that enter into commerce.  However, OSHA GHS requirements will apply to the other chemical ingredients of pesticides; the ‘inactive’ ingredients or cleaning products that are hazardous.  This is a continuation of current OSHA HCS worker protection requirements.  OSHA anticipates that EPA will provide guidance to their regulated community on how to develop an OSHA GHS-compliant SDS to avoid conflict with pesticide labeling requirements. 

Key GHS Elements

Hazard communication.  A key goal of the final GHS is to better communicate hazard information to those most at risk—the workers exposed to hazardous chemicals Hazard communication requirements are provided in 29 CFR § 1910.1200.  Appendix C, Allocation of Label Elements, details how specified label elements apply to each hazard class and hazard category.  Appendix D, Safety Data Sheets, specifies requirements for the 16 SDS elements.

Concentration limits.  OSHA announced it will require the most protective GHS concentration limits for hazard classifications.  For example, for sensitizers and reproductive toxins, the final rule requires information to be provided on labels and safety data sheets at concentrations above 0.1%.  (See e.g., Appendix C, Allocation of Label Elements.)

Precautionary statements.  In addition to hazard statements, the GHS requires precautionary statements that describe recommended measures that should be taken to protect against hazardous exposures, or improper storage or handling of a chemical.  (See Appendix D, Safety Data Sheets).  Precautionary statements must also address hazard information necessary to protect workers from “hazards not otherwise classified that have been identified during the classification process.” (See Table D.1.)

Mixtures.  Health hazards posed by mixtures should be addressed based on the risks posed by the mixture itself, rather than by the hazards posed by the component chemicals individually.  The GHS does allow alternative classification methodologies where primary data are unavailable, including extrapolation and bridging.  The rule specifies procedures for determining whether mixtures are covered by the Standard. 

Chemical manufacturers, importers, distributors, or employers who become newly aware of any significant information regarding the hazards of a chemical shall revise the labels for the chemical within six months of becoming aware of the new information.  New information about hazards and ways to protect against hazards must be added to the SDS within three months. 

OSHA has modified General Industry Standards containing hazard classification and communication provisions so that they will be internally consistent and aligned with the GHS modifications to the HCS. 


Timeline.  Compliance with all of the provisions for preparation of new labels and safety data sheets is required by June 1, 2015.  Distributors will be allowed an additional six months to distribute containers received from chemical manufacturers and importers with the old labels and MSDSs in order to accommodate those they receive very close to the compliance date.  Workplace labels and training programs must be updated by June 1, 2016. 

State implementation.  OSHA intends to closely scrutinize amendments to previously approved State hazard communication standards to ensure equal or greater effectiveness, including assurance that any additional requirements do not conflict with, or adversely affect, the effectiveness of the national application of OSHA’s standard.

Guidance.  OSHA will be offering guidance materials such as quick cards and fact sheets to aid firms in developing and implementing the training requirements of this rule.  OSHA will also be releasing a small business compliance guide to provide additional guidance to small businesses, which will ease the economic impact and compliance burden. 

Next Steps

OSHA notes that the GHS is a living document, and the UN actively reviews it and considers possible changes based on implementation experiences and other information.  These changes are made on a two-year cycle, referred to as a biennium.  The OSHA proposal and the final rule are based on Revision 3 of the GHS.  OSHA will undertake future rulemaking as necessary to reflect new technological and scientific developments and UN revisions to GHS requirements.

Although not addressed in the rule, OSHA discusses interest in the development of a common classification database.  The European Union plan to deploy one.  Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and New Zealand have already done so.  However, classifications in these databases are not necessarily the same for the same chemical.  OSHA would like an international database of classifications developed and maintained.  A UN Sub-committee has been established to explore the issue further.