WASHINGTON -- In 2013, OSHA (the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration) published hazard communication rules that replaced Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) with newly formatted Safety Data Sheets (SDS). The deadline to convert from MSDS to the SDS format is June 1.

The SDS uses a format similar other countries to help harmonize communication of hazards and safety measures in handling materials and chemicals, further improving safety and health protections for America's workers.

Building on the success of OSHA's current Hazard Communication Standard, the GHS is expected to prevent injuries and illnesses, save lives and improve trade conditions for chemical manufacturers. The Hazard Communication Standard in 1983 gave the workers the ‘right to know,' but the new Globally Harmonized System gives workers the ‘right to understand.'

The new hazard communication standard still requires chemical manufacturers and importers to evaluate the chemicals they produce or import and provide hazard information to employers and workers by putting labels on containers and preparing safety data sheets. However, the modified standard provides a single set of harmonized criteria for classifying chemicals according to their health and physical hazards and specifies hazard communication elements for labeling and safety data sheets.

According to OSHA, the new standard covers over 43 million workers who produce or handle hazardous chemicals in more than five million workplaces across the country. The modification is expected to prevent over 500 workplace injuries and illnesses and 43 fatalities annually. Once fully implemented it will also:

* Improve the quality and consistency of hazard information in the workplace, making it safer for workers to do their jobs and easier for employers to stay competitive;
* Enhance worker comprehension of hazards, especially for low and limited-literacy workers, reduce confusion in the workplace, facilitate safety training, and result in safer handling and use of chemicals;
* Provide workers quicker and more efficient access to information on the safety data sheets;
* Result in cost savings to American businesses of more than $475 million in productivity improvements, fewer safety data sheet and label updates and simpler new hazard communication training: and
* Reduce trade barriers by harmonizing with systems around the world.

Major changes to the Hazard Communication Standard include:

* Hazard classification: Chemical manufacturers and importers are required to determine the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import. Hazard classification under the new, updated standard provides specific criteria to address health and physical hazards as well as classification of chemical mixtures.
* Labels: Chemical manufacturers and importers must provide a label that includes a signal word, pictogram, hazard statement, and precautionary statement for each hazard class and category.
* Safety Data Sheets: The new format requires 16 specific sections, ensuring consistency in presentation of important protection information.
* Information and training: To facilitate understanding of the new system, the new standard requires that workers be trained by December 1, 2013 on the new label elements and safety data sheet format, in addition to the current training requirements.
Starting in December, 2013, employers were to begin training employees on the new label elements and SDA format. Compliance with all modified provisions of the final rule become effective June 1, although distributors may ship products labeled by manufacturers under the old system until Dec. 1.

The June 1 date coincides with the European Union implementation date for classification of mixtures.

The Department of Transportation (DOT), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Consumer Product Safety Commission actively participated in developing the GHS. DOT has already modified its requirements for classification and labeling to make them consistent with United Nations transport requirements and the new globally harmonized system.

The new system is being implemented throughout the world by countries including Canada, the European Union, China, Australia, and Japan.

More information on the hazard communication standard, including the link to the Federal Register notice, can be found here on OSHA's hazard communication safety and health topics page.

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