On June 1 of last year, OSHA expected the millions of employers across the country covered by its HazCom Standard to be in full compliance with the changes arising from alignment with the United Nations' Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Hazardous Chemicals (GHS). While the transition process certainly created areas of ambiguity— many of which still remain—one thing is crystal clear. OSHA is still citing workplaces for violations of the HazCom Standard at a vigorous rate. OSHA's own enforcement statistics show that HazCom ranks #2 on its most frequently cited standards list, behind only fall protection. This is part of a trend towards increasing focus on HazCom. HazCom moved up from the #3 spot four years ago, and has continued to be a priority for the agency. Penaltiesfor violations have also become more serious. In August of 2016, OSHA increased fines by 80 percent, and has said it will update fines yearly to account for inflation. This means that the penalties for failing to manage the requirements of the HazCom Standard sting more now than they have in many years.

OSHA issued 5665 HazCom citations in FY 2016, and labels and SDSs figured prominently in those citations. Some of the top HazCom citations were for:

  • Failing to train (on SDSs, labels and more);

  • Failing to provide barrier-free access to SDSs;

  • Failing to develop SDSs for hazardous chemicals produced or imported; and

  • Failures related to labeling, explaining labels to employees and having an appropriate workplace labeling system.

In short, when we are talking about HazCom violations, the bulk of them include issues with SDSs and labels.

As we proceed through 2017, we know that the obligations created by GHS alignment are ongoing. Challenges persist. And missed deadlines upstream still have the potential to impact downstream users of chemicals. For many employers, there are still more questions than answers. Some employers may be confused because of upstream adoption delays; others because of general misunderstandings surrounding what has long been required under the HazCom Standard versus what became newly required as a consequence of GHS alignment. And the constantly changing regulatory landscape, now in flux in a way unrealized in many years, doesn't help either!

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