How to Conquer Four HazCom Labeling Conundrums

How to Conquer Four HazCom Labeling Conundrums

Why is HazCom such a sand trap for compliance citations?

Whether you’re in an office, on a construction site, manufacturing products or managing a warehouse, chances are high there are potentially hazardous chemicals in your workplace. Most workplace hazardous chemicals fall under the regulation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). Putting OSHA HCS into practice (HazCom) is critical for compliance and worker safety.

Yet year after year, HazCom violations are at the top of OSHA’s “Top Ten Most Frequently Cited Standards” list online, coming in at number two for the 2019 fiscal year. In fact, if you do a quick Google search of the top ten lists for OSHA citations going back to 2002, you’ll see that HazCom violations haven’t dipped below the number three spot in all that time. So why is HazCom such a sand trap for compliance citations?

Well, in general, what OSHA requires for compliance is determined by more than the mere presence of chemicals. The quantities, frequency of use and if or where the chemicals may be shipped all help determine which standards apply. Certainly, the 2016 culmination of OSHA’s transition to the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) is also a contributing factor.

This article answers four of the most common, yet most confusing, questions about HazCom labeling when it comes to getting and staying compliant.

How Do I Know Which Workplace Chemicals Need HazCom Labels?
What is considered a hazardous chemical? OSHA standard 1900.1200 (Hazard Communication, Toxic and Hazardous Substances) defines hazardous chemicals as “any chemical which is classified as a physical hazard or a health hazard, a simple asphyxiant, combustible dust, pyrophoric gas, or hazard not otherwise classified.”

OSHA standard 1910.119, Appendix A is a helpful list of highly hazardous chemicals which would certainly require HazCom labeling. This list also includes threshold quantities (i.e. the amount above which presents a potential for a catastrophic event). Unfortunately, it is not a comprehensive list of all potentially hazardous chemicals.

The good news is that any new hazardous chemicals coming into your facility should already come with labels that are fully GHS-compliant. All you have to do is maintain those labels and ensure they remain both intact and legible. However, if you are transferring those chemicals to other (secondary) containers, then you would need to create additional GHS-compliant labels for the secondary containers.

However, this is where deciding which chemicals need HazCom labels gets murkier because there are some secondary container exclusions. If you prefer to stay in the clear calm waters of certainty, remember the safest option is to simply label all secondary chemical containers with full GHS labels, regardless.

Portable containers. Containers intended for immediate use by one (and only one) employee are excluded from HazCom labeling. Consider this scenario: each morning an employee pours one cup of bleach into a bucket, dilutes it with water and proceeds to clean the facilities with the mixture. When the employee is done, the remaining mixture is disposed of. The bucket containing the bleach mix does not require a HazCom label while the employee is cleaning.

If an employee were to create the same cleaning solution, yet wish to leave it behind for other workers to use throughout the day, a HazCom label would be required. Similarly, if the employee wished to store the mixture for future use, the secondary container for storing the mix would require a HazCom label.

Consumer use. Consumer chemicals used in typical consumer fashion would typically use them do not require HazCom labeling. An ammonia-based household cleaning spray you could buy at the grocery store is a good example of a consumer chemical. Keeping it on hand in the break room for employees to clean up after themselves would not require HazCom labeling. In this scenario the chemical is being used in the same way the average consumer would use it.

Substances covered under other regulations. HazCom labeling does not apply to substances that are regulated by other government agencies or statutes. For example: hazardous waste (RCRA); pesticides, cosmetics and drugs for personal consumption (FDA); food (USDA); consumer products (CPSC); and chemicals regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act, which is administered by the EPA.

HMIS & NFPA vs. GHS labels: Which Should I Use?
GHS chemical labels are still fairly new, having only been adopted by OSHA as part of the updated HCS in 2012. Not to mention the grace period for businesses to fully convert to GHS is short, and they must do so by 2016. It makes sense that many ask the question of whether or not to continue to use the previous voluntary workplace labeling systems or move to GHS.

Since 1994, the most prevalent voluntary workplace HazCom labeling systems have been the Hazardous Materials Identification System (HMIS) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). From the outside, reluctance to switch to GHS may seem purely due to the time, money and other resources required to replace old labels.

While resources definitely play an important role in HazCom labeling, there is a strong case for “sticking with what you know.” Workers who have been trained on HMIS and NFPA are more comfortable with those systems and may find GHS HazCom labels confusing. Many employers just want to know: Can you still use HMIS and NFPA labels?

The official answer from OSHA, found on osha.gov states, “Yes, OSHA will continue to allow NFPA and/or HMIS rating systems on labels and SDSs as supplemental information.  However, the rules for labeling and placement on the SDSs still apply.”

OSHA’s official answer goes on to explain that the current regulations allow for the use of existing labeling systems like HMIS and NFPA (based on HCS 1994) as long as they are consistent with the current requirements of the HCS. Additionally, supplemental labels can only be used for chemicals on-site within the facility and employees must understand the specific physical and health hazards.

However, there are three reasons employers should strongly consider moving to the use of labels that are fully GHS compliant:

1. Shipments of new chemicals coming into the facility will have fully compliant GHS labels. If HMIS/NFPA labels are used for workplace secondary containers, then employees need to be trained on both systems. Therefore, moving to GHS-compliant HazCom labels streamlines training into one system.

2. OSHA regulation 1910.1200(f)(6)(ii) outlines the information required on hazardous chemical labels, which includes physical and health hazards. These are standard elements required for GHScompliant labels, yet not typically found on HMIS or NFPA labels When an HMIS or NFPA label is used instead of a GHS label, employers must prove employees understand the hazards as well as they would have with a GHS label.

3. The numbering system for HMIS and NFPA are the opposite of GHS. One is the most serious hazard rating for GHS and the least serious for both HMIS and NFPA. While the numbers are not dis played on GHS labels, this still has the potential to cause confusion.

GHS Chemical Labeling: How to Find Required Information
There are six required elements for a fully compliant GHS label including: product identifier, signal word, pictograms, hazard statements, precautionary statements and supplier information. All of this information is available on the safety data sheet (SDS) that should be provided by the supplier with the chemicals that are purchased. If the SDS is missing or is in the old MSDS format, the chemical manufacturer should be contacted to request an updated SDS.

For accurate, compliant HazCom labeling, having an updated SDS is crucial. SDS are divided into 16 sections, Section 2 Hazard(s) Identification include all the information needed for creating GHS-compliant HazCom labels. There are also websites and software solutions that can streamline GHS label creation with time-saving, convenient tools that auto-fill GHS information by simply entering the CAS number or chemical name. However, this information should be cross-checked with the corresponding SDS to ensure accuracy.

How Do I Combat Label Wear & Tear in My Facility?
There are no specific requirements for what labels should be made of when used for on-site chemicals. However, HazCom labeling doesn’t do anyone any good if the labels are missing or illegible, which can be a struggle in demanding, heavy-duty work environments. Standard paper labels designed for office applications simply can’t stand up to the wear and tear of industrial spaces, especially when chemicals are involved.

Durable film-based labels made of materials like polyester with aggressive adhesive helps decrease the chances of being non-compliant during an audit and the need to continuously replace labels due to fading, tearing, wearing or falling off. Ideally, industrial labels for HazCom should stick to a wide variety of materials such as plastic, glass and metal, and obviously have some resistance to chemicals. Resistance to water, abrasion, UV fading and tearing will also help your HazCom labels stay legible so you don’t have to replace them as often.

To further increase the longevity of your HazCom labels, consider making the switch to marine-grade labels engineered for GHS labels used in shipping. GHS labels for shipping chemicals must comply with very strict standards to ensure they remain intact during overseas shipping. Labels that are compliant with GHS shipping standards are waterproof, resist chemicals, abrasion, UV fading, tearing and have been tested to stay adhered in seawater for at least 90 days. Look for labels that say BS5609-compliant and have been tested to meet such requirements.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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