OSHA’s plans for updating permissible exposure limits, ergonomics, and setting workplace safety and health program requirements are nebulous, to say the least in early 2010.

But one hot potato issue OSHA can’t duck regards revising the hazard communication standard to conform with the United Nations' (UN) Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).

You’ll probably hear more about the GHS standard than any other OSHA rule in 2010. For one reason, it is further along the standards-setting pipeline than other controversial issues.

Many interest groups favor global standardization of hazcom data sheets and labels, but the stakes and potential compliance costs are high, given that hazcom is one of OSHA’s most sweeping standards, affecting millions of workplace.

On September 30, 2009, OSHA published a proposed rule to revise the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) to conform with UN rule. OSHA published a correction notice for the NPRM on November 5, 2009. The deadline for submitting written comments and hearing requests was December 29, 2009. OSHA anticipates receiving several hearing requests and is scheduling hearings to begin on March 2, 2010, in Washington, DC; March 31, 2010, in Pittsburgh, PA; and April 13, 2010, in Los Angeles, CA. If necessary, the hearing will continue at the same time on subsequent days at each location.

The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) recently released remarks in response to OSHA’s request for comments on the proposed rule to adapt the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).

The recommendations provided by AIHA specifically focus on hazard classification, chemical labeling, Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), labeling language modifications and definitions, and the scheduling of employee training once these changes are implemented.

In its comments on the proposal, AIHA emphasizes its support of :

  • the adoption of the detailed GHS criteria and weight of evidence approach to hazard evaluation and classification;
  • the approach OSHA has taken to require the GHS precautionary statements to be on HCS labels;
  • the modification of the language required for signs and labels to bear the same hazard statements that are required for all chemicals of the same classification;
  • the immediate training of employees upon the issue of the final standard.

In addition to supporting many parts of OSHA’s proposal, AIHA suggested enhancements to certain sections, such as an inclusion of a non-mandatory appendix to the HCS that contains reference to the Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) and other occupational exposure limits like Workplace Environmental Exposure Levels (WEELs).

“Our number one concern remains the fact that proposed changes to the hazcom standard would remove references to the TLVs. AIHA suggested that not only should the TLVs remain in the standard, or at the least as an appendix, but other occupational exposure limits should also be referenced,” said the association.

Meanwhile, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) President C. Christopher Patton, CSP, noted in a letter sent recently to Assistant Secretary of OSHA David Michaels that ASSE is “disappointed to see that control banding (CB) has been largely ignored in the development of the revised standard,” Patton said.

ASSE believes OSHA should update hazcom to incorporate elements of CB, explaining: ”CB is a technique used to guide the assessment and management of workplace risks. It is a generic technique that determines a control measure (for example dilution ventilation, engineering controls, containment, etc.) based on a range or “band” of hazards (such as skin/eye irritant, very toxic, carcinogenic, etc) and exposures (small, medium, large exposure), according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

“It is an approach that is based on two pillars; the fact that there are a limited number of control approaches, and that many problems have been met and solved before. CB uses the solutions that experts have developed previously to control occupational chemical exposures, and suggesting them to other tasks with similar exposure situations. It is an approach that focuses resources on exposure controls and describes how strictly a risk needs to be managed.

“When this nation is so close to harmonization with GHS, it would be unfortunately short-sighted not to take the extra step of incorporating control banding since many of the necessary tools to do so are already included in this rulemaking,” Patton said. “To do so would advance harmonization a significant step further and avoid the need for future rulemaking, which ASSE firmly believes will be necessary as control banding becomes more widely accepted in the international marketplace.”