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FAQ’s About GHS, OSHA’s HazCom Standard, and its Impact on the Hazardous Material Regulations of the PHMSA/USDOT

FAQ’s About GHS, OSHA’s HazCom Standard, and its Impact on the Hazardous Material Regulations of the PHMSA/USDOT

By now everyone in the industry has heard about GHS and how it will affect the management of hazardous chemicals in the US.  Since my training and expertise is currently limited to the regulations of the USEPA (and authorized States) and the PHMSA of the USDOT, I have strived to stay away from this revision to OSHA’s regulations.  However, too many questions from too many people has convinced me that I can ignore it no longer.  Also, though currently minor, GHS has affected the Hazardous Materials Regulations of the PHMSA/USDOT.  And though not likely to become significant in the near future, there is the distinct possibility that future updates to the HMR will be affected by the current GHS.  While not an expert in GHS and HazCom, the purpose of this article is to assemble in one place a variety of questions and answers those in the regulated industry are likely to have.

Questions about GHS:

  • What is the GHS?
    • ANSWER:  GHS is an acronym for the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS).  It is an international approach to hazard communication using an agreed upon criteria for classifying hazardous chemicals and a standardized method to communicate the hazards through use of container labels and Safety Data Sheets (SDS).
  • Where did the GHS come from?
    • ANSWER:  The 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) mandated the development of a globally harmonized hazard classification and labeling system to be implemented by 2000, if feasible.  Work groups established at the UNCED were tasked to analyze current systems and develop a new harmonized system for hazard identification.  The results of their efforts is the GHS we know of today.  It was adopted by the UN in December of 2002.
  • What is the Purple Book?
    • ANSWER:  The Purple Book is the name for the new GHS system devised by the UNCED work groups and adopted by the UN in December of 2002.
  •  What classification and labeling systems formed the basis for GHS?
    • ANSWER:
      • US and Canadian systems applicable to the workplace, consumers, and pesticides.
      • European Union directives for the classification and labeling of substances and preparations.
      • United Nations Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods.
  • What is the scope of the GHS?
    • ANSWER:  To create a globally harmonized system of criteria for classifying substances and mixtures according to their health, environmental, and physical hazards.  The GHS c0vers all hazardous chemicals.  Target audiences include consumers, workers, transport workers and emergency responders.  And then, to create a globally harmonized system of communicating the hazards of a substance or mixture.
  • How does GHS intend to communicate the hazards of a substance or mixture?
    • ANSWER:  Through the use of a labeling system and Safety Data Sheets (SDS).
  • Will I need to conduct additional sample analysis in order to classify my hazardous chemicals according to the new regulations?
    • ANSWER:  No.  the GHS does not include the establishment of uniform test methods or require further testing
  • Is GHS mandatory?  Do UN regulations require its implementation?
    • ANSWER:  No.  The GHS is not a regulation or a standard, it is a set of recommendations that a competent authority such as OSHA in the US can voluntarily adopt and incorporate into its regulations.  For example, while OSHA adopted most of the GHS into its revised HCS, it did not include the classification of environmental hazards.
  • Who are these “competent authorities” who have or will adopt GHS?
    • ANSWER:  China, the US, Canada, Australia, the European Union, Mexico, Japan, Russia, more…Refer to this UNECE website for an up-to-date list of GHS implementation.
  • Has OSHA adopted the GHS?
    • ANSWER:  Yes.  Effective March 26, 2012 OSHA revised its Hazard Communication Standard (HCS or HazCom) at 29 CFR 1910.1200 to reflect its adoption of most of the recommendations of the GHS.  Full implementation of the revised HCS will be phased in over several years with full implementation by 2016.  However, several requirements of the revised HCS are effective in 2013.

Questions about OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS or HazCom):

  • What is OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard?
    • ANSWER:  29 CFR 1910.1200 is the location within the Code of Federal Regulations for OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS).  It is designed to ensure that employers provide information about the hazards posed by chemicals and associated protective measures to their workers.
  • What are the specific requirements of HCS?
    • ANSWER:  Chemical manufacturers and importers must evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce/import and provide information about them in the form of labels and Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS’s).  Employers whose employees are exposed to those hazardous chemicals must prepare and implement a written hazard communication program, ensure all hazardous chemical containers are labeled, ensure worker have access to MSDS’s, and conduct an effective training program for all potentially exposed workers.  Note “workers”, it is not limited to just your “employees”.
  • Who is covered by HCS?
    • ANSWER:  HCS applies to general industry, shipyard, marine terminals, longshoring, and construction employment.  It covers chemical manufacturers, importers, employers, and employees exposed to chemical hazards.  Any employer with one or more employees that is exposed to a hazardous chemical is covered.
  • Does the HCS apply to office personnel?
    • ANSWER:  Likely, no.  Most office products (white out, pen ink, copier toner cartridges, coffee, etc.) are exempt from consideration as hazardous chemicals under the HCS.  Office personnel who are only exposed to these articles and consumer products intermittently are also exempt from regulation under HCS.  However, if office personnel were exposed to these or other potentially hazardous chemicals in a manner not normally considered to be office work, eg. servicing the copier, cleaning the coffee machine, etc. then the HCS may apply.
  • Who will be impacted by the revisions to HCS?
    • ANSWER:  OSHA estimates that >5 million US workplaces will be affected by the revised HCS and up to 43 million employees in those workplaces could be exposed to the hazardous chemicals that HCS is meant to address.
  • Who needs this training?
    • ANSWER:
      1. Any person who comes in contact with a hazardous chemical.
      2. Chemical manufacturers, importers, and distributors.
  • What is a hazardous chemical?
    • ANSWER:  OSHA defines a hazardous chemical as any chemical that is a health hazard or a physical hazard.
  • What is a health hazard?
    • ANSWER:  OSHA defines a health hazard as a chemical for which there is statistically significant evidence based on at least one study conducted in accordance with established scientific principles that acute or chronic health effects may occur in exposed employees.  Chemicals covered by this definition include carcinogens, toxic or highly toxic agents, reproductive toxins, irritants, corrosives, sensitizers, hepatotoxins, nephrotoxins, neurotoxins, agents that act on the hematopoietic system, and agents that damage the lungs, skin, eyes, or mucous membranes.
  • What is a physical hazard?
    • ANSWER:  OSHA defines a physical hazard as a chemical for which there is scientifically valid evidence that it is a combustible liquid, a compressed gas, explosive, flammable, an organic peroxide, an oxidizer, pyrophoric, unstable (reactive), or water-reactive.
  • Why did OSHA revise HazCom to adopt the GHS recommendations?
    • ANSWER:  To harmonize US hazard communication regulations with those of the international community and other competent authorities.  It is believed that this will make the international transportation of hazardous chemicals safer, faster, and more efficient.  OSHA estimates the revised HazCom will result in the prevention of 43 fatalities and 585 injuries and illnesses annually with a monetized value of $250 million a year.
  • What are the major changes to HCS?
    • ANSWER:
      1. Hazard classification – The definitions of hazards have been changed to provide criteria for the classification of health and physical hazards (OSHA did not revise HCS to include environmental hazards as GHS recommends).
      2. Labeling of containers – Containers of hazardous chemicals now must display a label provided by the chemical manufacturer or importer with four pieces of information on it: signal word, pictogram, hazard statement, and precautionary statement (29 CFR 1910.1200, Appendix C).
      3. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) – Known as Safety Data Sheets (SDS) in the revised HCS, will now have a specified 16-section format.
      4. Related revisions to definitions and requirements for employee training on labels and Safety Data Sheets.
  • What are the criteria for the determination of health hazards?
    • ANSWER:
      • Acute toxicity (LD50 & LC50)
      • Skin corrosion/irritation
      • Serious eye damage/eye irritation
      • Respiratory and skin sensitization
      • Germ cell mutagenicity
      • Reproductive toxicity
      • Carcinogenicity
      • Specific target organ toxicity (STOT) – single exposure
      • Specific target organ toxicity (STOT) – repeat exposure
      • Aspiration hazard
  • What are the criteria for the determination of physical hazards?
    • ANSWER:
      • Explosives
      • Aerosols
      • Gases under pressure
      • Self-reactive substances
      • Pyrophoric liquids
      • Self-heating substances
      • Organic peroxides
      • Substances which emit flammable gases when in contact with water
      • Flammable gases
      • Oxidizing gases
      • Flammable liquids
      • Flammable solids
      • Pyrophoric solids
      • Oxidizing liquids
      • Corrosive to metals
      • Oxidizing solids
  • What are the criteria for determination of environmental hazards?  Note:  OSHA did not revise HCS to include the assessment and communication of an environmental hazard, though it is a recommendation of GHS.
    • ANSWER:
      • Acute aquatic toxicity
      • Chronic aquatic toxicity
  • What are the required elements of the revised HCS/GHS-compliant labels?
    • ANSWER:  For a hazardous chemical label to comply with the revised HCS, it must contain each of the following elements:
      1. Product identifier – A name or number that identifies the chemical and cross-references it to the Safety Data Sheet.  It may be a technical name or a trade name.  It must be exactly the same on the container label as on the SDS.
      2. Supplier information – The name, address, and 24-hour telephone number of the manufacturer, importer, or other responsible party.
      3. Signal word – Indicates the severity of the hazard.  There are two signal words:
        • DANGER indicates the hazard is serious.
        • WARNING indicates the hazard is less serious.
      4. Hazard statements  – Describes the nature of the hazards and sometimes the conditions under which the hazards might occur.  The hazard statement is determined by the class and category of hazard.
      5. Precautionary statements and Pictograms – Precautionary statements are recommended measures to minimize or prevent injury or illness due to exposure to the chemical or from improper handling or storage.  Whereas pictograms are Specified symbols or graphics to convey specific hazard information.  First aid information will also be included.
  • What are the GHS-compliant pictograms adopted by OSHA in the Hazard Communication Standard?
    • ANSWER:  There are nine (9) GHS-compliant pictograms; however, OSHA will only enforce the use of eight of them.  The Environmental pictogram is not mandatory, but may be used to provide additional information.
      1. Health Hazard
      2. Flame
      3. Exclamation Mark
      4. Gas Cylinder
      5. Corrosion
      6. Exploding Bomb
      7. Flame Over Circle
      8. Environment (non-mandatory)
      9. Skull and Crossbones
  • Is the use of the Environment pictogram to identify aquatic toxicity required by OSHA?
    • ANSWER:  No.  OSHA does not mandate the use of the Environmental pictogram, though its may be used to provide additional information.  Therefore, workers may see this pictogram on GHS-compliant labels if the person who prepared the label chose to include it as supplementary information.
  • May a GHS-compliant label contain information in addition to that required by the HCS?
    • ANSWER:  Yes.  Known as supplementary hazard information (c.3 of Appendix C of 29 CFR 1910.1200) may be included as long as its placement on the label doesn’t impede the identification of the information required by the HCS.
  • What are the required elements of the revised HCS/GHS-compliant Safety Data Sheet (SDS)?
    • ANSWER:  Appendix D to 29 CFR 1910.1200 documents the required (and suggested) information to include in the SDS and the format.  Sections 1-11 and 16 are required, sections 12-15 may be included but are not required.
      1. Section 1—Identification:  Product identifier, manufacturer or distributor name, address, phone number, emergency phone number, recommended use, and restrictions on use.
      2. Section 2—Hazard(s) identification:  All hazards regarding the chemical and required label elements.
      3. Section 3—Composition/Information on ingredients:  Information on chemical ingredients and trade secret claims.
      4. Section 4—First-aid measures:  Required first aid treatment for exposure to a chemical and the symptoms (immediate or delayed) of exposure.
      5. Section 5—Fire-fighting measures:  The techniques and equipment recommended for extinguishing a fire involving the chemical and hazards that may be created during combustion.
      6. Section 6—Accidental release measures:  Steps to take in the event of a spill or release involving the chemical.  Includes:  emergency procedures, protective equipment and proper methods of containment and cleanup.
      7. Section 7—Handling and storage:  Precautions for safe handling and storage, including incompatibilities.
      8. Section 8—Exposure controls/Personal protection:  OSHA’s permissible exposure limits (PELs), threshold limit values (TLVs), appropriate engineering controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE).
      9. Section 9—Physical and chemical properties:  The chemical’s characteristics.
      10. Section 10—Stability and reactivity:  Chemical stability and possible hazardous reactions.
      11. Section 11—Toxicological information:  Routes of exposure (inhalation, ingestion, or absorption contact), symptoms, acute and chronic effects, and numerical measures of toxicity.
      12. Section 12—Ecological information:  How the chemical might affect the environment and the duration of the effect.
      13. Section 13—Disposal considerations—describes safe handling of wastes and methods of disposal, including the disposal of any contaminated packaging.
      14. Section 14—Transportation information—includes packing, marking, and labeling requirements for hazardous chemical shipments.
      15. Section 15—Regulatory information—indicates regulations that apply to chemical.
      16. Section 16—Other information—includes date of preparation or last revision
  • What is the phase-in period for the GHS elements in the revised HCS?
    • ANSWER:
      • December 1, 2013 – Employers must train employees on the new label elements and safety data sheet (SDS) format.  Note that this is December 1st and not the 31st.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have until the end of 2013 to complete the required HCS training.
      • June 1, 2015 – Compliance with all modified provisions of the final rule for chemical manufacturers, importers, distributors, and employers; including use of the new SDS and labeling system.  One exception to this compliance date is for distributors (see next bullet point).
      • December 1, 2015 – Distributors shall not ship containers of hazardous materials labeled by the chemical manufacturer or importer unless it carries the appropriate HCS label.
      • June 1, 2016 – Update alternative workplace labeling and hazard communication program as necessary, and provide additional employee training for newly identified physical or health hazards.
  • Any chance of those deadlines, especially the employee training requirement by December 1, 2013, being extended by OSHA?  Or, perhaps OSHA will not strictly enforce the regulations as of that date?
    • ANSWER:  There is no indication of an extension to the deadline or relaxed enforcement at this time; though such an extension/relaxation is possible.  A relaxed approach to enforcement of a training requirement was granted by the USEPA for its (at the time) new lead paint regulation, commonly known as RRP (Renovations, Repairs, and Painting) at 40 CFR 745.  However, to approach the deadline without training and in the hopes of receiving such a break is unsupportable.
  • May I comply with the requirements of the revised HCS prior to the mandated phase-in periods?
    • ANSWER:  Yes.  Many chemical manufacturers, importers, distributors, and employers have begun to comply with the regulations of the revised HCS well ahead of the dates set by OSHA.
  • What if I have HCS training due prior to December 1, 2013 but am not yet ready to train my employees on the GHS revisions to HCS?  May I conduct HCS training according to the old standard (in effect prior to March 26, 2012) now and follow-up with GHS-compliant HCS training prior to December 1, 2013?
    • ANSWER:  Yes.  During the phase-in period (prior to December 1, 2013) you may conduct HCS training according to the GHS revisions or as the HCS appeared prior to the GHS revisions.  However, you must complete HCS training reflecting the GHS revisions prior to December 1, 2013 for all applicable employees.
  • Will OSHA allow employers to label containers of hazardous chemicals with an in-house labeling system?
    • ANSWER:  Yes.  The revised HCS will allow employers to label workplace containers with an alternative labeling system as long as it meets the requirements of the standard.  The use of alternative labeling systems (such as the NFPA 704 Hazard Rating and the HMIS) must be consistent with the revisions to the HCS affecting the hazard classification and labeling of containers.
  • Will I have to revise my Hazard Communication Plan?  And if so, by what date?
    • ANSWER:  As of June 1, 2016 all employers that use, handle, or store chemicals must update their Hazard Communication Plan to reflect the GHS revisions to the HCS and its impact on their HazCom Program.
  • What are the required elements of a GHS-compliant Hazard Communication Plan?
    • ANSWER:
      • Identification of the responsible party(ies) coordinating the maintenance of the program.
      • Description of the methods to inform employees of the hazards of non-routine tasks and hazards associated with chemicals contained in unlabeled pipes.
      • Criteria for labels and other forms of warning, including:
        • Designation of person responsible for ensuring labeling of in-plant containers;
        • Designation of person responsible for ensuring labeling of shipped containers;
        • Description of labeling system used;
        • Description of written alternatives to labeling of in-plant containers, where applicable: and
        • Procedures to review and update label information, when necessary
      • Criteria for SDS’s, including:
        • Designation of persons responsible for obtaining/ maintaining the SDS’s;
        • How the SDS’s are to be maintained, procedures on how to retrieve SDS’s electronically, including backup systems to be used in the event of failure of the electronic equipment, and how employees obtain access to the SDS’s;
        • Procedures to follow when the SDS is not received at the time of the first shipment; and
        • For chemical manufacturers or importers, procedures for updating the SDS when new and significant health information is found
      • Criteria for employee training, including:
        • Designation of persons responsible for conducting training;
        • Format of the program to be used;
        • Elements of the training program, if the written program addresses how the duties outlined in the regulation for employee information and training will be met;
        • Procedures to train new employees at the time of their initial assignment and to train employees when a new hazard is introduced into the workplace; and
        • Procedures to train employees regarding new hazards to which they may be exposed when working on or near another employer’s worksite.

Questions about GHS’s affect on the PHMSA/USDOT’s Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR):

  • What is the compliance date for use of the GHS-compliant, revised labeling system on hazardous chemicals in transportation or offered for transportation?
    • ANSWER:  All hazardous chemicals (as defined by OSHA which may differ from the PHMSA/USDOT definition of a hazardous material) must be labeled with the specified elements of the revised HCS (including pictograms, signal words, and hazard and precautionary statements) if shipped after June 1, 2015.
  • May I begin using the labeling system required by the revised HCS prior to the June 1, 2015 effective date?
    • ANSWER:  Yes.  Manufacturers, importers, and distributors may start using the new labeling system in the revised HCS prior to the June 1, 2015 effective date.
  • Does the USDOT/PHMSA forbid the use of the pictograms required on GHS-compliant labels for packagings in transportation or offered for transportation?
    • ANSWER:  No.  At 49 CFR 172.401(c)(5) in the HMR, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) of the USDOT specifically allows for the use of the labels recommended by the GHS on packages of hazardous materials in transportation.  The PHMSA allows the use of a GHS label (required by the revised HCS) even if its use could confuse or conflict with the HazMat Labels required by the HMR.  Refer to this PHMSA interpretation letter for clarification (07-0156).
  • May the revised HCS pictograms replace the HazMat labels of the PHMSA/USDOT for packages when in transportation or offered for transportation?
    • ANSWER:  No.  the OSHA pictograms do not replace the diamond-shaped HazMat labels required by the PHMSA/USDOT.  HazMat labels meeting the requirements of 49 CFR 172, Subpart E must be visible on a packaging when in transportation.
  • Does OSHA forbid the use of the new pictograms when the hazard is already correctly identified on the packaging with the PHMSA/USDOT-compliant HazMat label?
    • ANSWER:  No.  In a brief released in March 2013 OSHA announced that it would revise its existing regulations, which currently forbid the use of its pictograms on containers already labeled with the HazMat label, to allow both a PHMSA/USDOT HazMat label and an HCS pictogram for the same hazard to appear on a package.  The brief further stated that OSHA will not enforce the current prohibition until the revision can be completed.
  • Did OSHA previously forbid the use of the new GHS pictograms when the hazard was already correctly identified on the packaging with the PHMSA/USDOT-compliant HazMat label?
    • ANSWER:  Yes.  The HCS as currently written explicitly forbids the use of the pictogram if the packaging already has the HazMat Label required by the USDOT/PHMSA [29 CFR 1910.1200, Appendix C.2.3.3]:

Where a pictogram required by the Department of Transportation under Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations appears on a shipped container, the pictogram specified in c.4 for the same hazard shall not appear.

However, OSHA announced in March 2013 that it will revise this regulation to allow for the use of both its pictogram and the HazMat label on the same package.  Until the revision is complete OSHA will not enforce this regulation.

  • What is the definition of transportation per the PHMSA/USDOT?
    • ANSWER:  For a full explanation refer to 49 CFR 171.1(c) but basically it includes the actual movement of the hazardous material by rail car, aircraft, motor vehicle, or vessel and loading, unloading and storage incidental to movement.
  • Once the hazardous material packaging is out of transportation and no longer subject to the HMR, must I replace the HazMat Labels with the revised HCS pictograms?
    • ANSWER:  It is uncertain at this time if the revised HCS will require the sole use of the pictogram once the HazMat package is out of transportation or if the PHMSA/USDOT HazMat Label will continue to be allowed in addition to the GHS pictogram.
  • Can I rely on the information contained in Section 14 – Transportation Information of the revised Safety Data Sheet to classify, package, and ship my hazardous material?
    • ANSWER:  No.  Section 14 is not required to be included in the SDS by the revised HCS.  It, along with Sections 12, 13, & 15 may be included but are not mandatory.  The information that may be contained in Sections 12-15 is outside the authority of OSHA whereas the information in Sections 1-11 & 16 are not.  OSHA will not enforce compliance with the information in Sections 12-15.  In other words, even if Section 14 is included in the SDS, its information is not verified as correct by OSHA or the PHMSA/USDOT.  If the information in Section 14 turns out to be incorrect, any violations of the HMR due to that incorrect information will be your responsibility.

Sources of Additional Information:


This is just the beginning of this article, as I intend to add or update information as it becomes available.  I’ll also be adding links to additional guidance information and/or regulations, making this the only source of information you’ll need for GHS/HCS compliance.  Please link this page to your  website or add it to your favorites in order to be sure you don’t miss anything.  Or, you can subscribe to my monthly newsletter, I will maintain a link to this article from there so monthly you can see if there is anything new.  One way to get the information you need is to ask me a question; if it’s a good one, I’ll add it to these FAQ’s.