Talk about hazards

OSHA's new hazard communication standard includes new worker training requirements

Roofing contractors were cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for violating OSHA's current hazard communication program regulation in about 200 instances during fiscal year 2010-11. It was the 10th most common citation in the roofing industry in states under federal OSHA jurisdiction.

Toward the end of 2013, select elements of a new OSHA hazard communication standard will take effect, and you must begin planning for the training requirements that you will need to implement by Dec. 1, 2013. The new standard is based on internationally agreed upon rules OSHA anticipates will provide for the broadest recognition of identified hazards while reducing costs of disseminating chemical hazard information.


OSHA first published a hazard communication standard in 1983. Initially, the rule only covered the manufacturing industry; full implementation and enforcement of the standard in all OSHA industry sectors, including construction, has been in place since 1989. The hazard communication standard requires employers with workers exposed to hazardous chemicals to develop, implement and maintain a written hazard communication program at each workplace. At a minimum, a written program must address hazardous chemicals container labeling, material safety data sheets (MSDSs) maintenance and worker training for chemical hazards.

In 1983, when OSHA first introduced its hazard communication standard, the agency announced its support for a harmonized system for hazardous chemicals, a worldwide uniform approach to classifying and labeling products, among U.S. and major trading partners. Nearly 10 years later, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development suggested a Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS), which the U.S. supports in principle. GHS is a set of criteria and provisions from which a regulatory agency may choose to incorporate into its regulations. In 2006, OSHA announced an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking seeking comments about GHS implementation into the hazard communication standard, and a number of hearings were held on the proposal. The final rule was published in March 2012.

The impetus for the new regulatory action is based on the fact that several U.S. government agencies exercise jurisdiction over hazardous chemical communication. The Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency and Consumer Product Safety Commission separately oversee specific regulatory areas that involve chemical hazards. In addition, various international rules with respect to hazardous chemicals cause a compliance nightmare for manufacturers who market products in different countries and face labeling and safety data sheet (SDS) rules specific to each country. GHS attempts to bring uniformity to compliance and enforcement challenges surrounding hazardous chemicals.

Regulatory highlights

OSHA's hazard communication standard applicable to construction work is the same standard applicable to general industry found in 29 CFR §1910.1200. The current obligations the regulation imposes on employers with respect to hazardous chemicals in the workplace apply to all chemicals that are physical or health hazards. The new rule broadens the hazardous chemicals definition to include combustible dust and hazards not otherwise classified. Under new hazard communication standard definitions, a physical hazard is a chemical classified as one that emits a flammable gas when contacted by water or that can be explosive, flammable, oxidizing, self-reactive; pyrophoric, self-heating; organic peroxide; or corrosive to metal or pressurized gas.

A health hazard is defined as a chemical that can result in acute toxicity; skin corrosion or irritation; serious eye damage or eye irritation; respiratory or skin sensitization; germ cell mutagenicity; carcinogenicity; reproductive toxicity; specific target organ toxicity; or aspiration hazard.

Under the GHS, hazard classification is more specific than under the current hazard communication standard. Each hazard falls into a main hazard class, such as explosives, toxicity or carcinogens. A hazard class has a number of categories within it that further detail or specify the nature of the chemical or mixture. Hazard communication requirements are linked directly to the hazard classification with the result that labeling requirements for signal words (such as "danger" or "warning"), pictograms (such as flames or a skull and crossbones) and hazard statements (such as "fatal if swallowed") align with the class and category.

Signal words are words used to indicate the relative level of hazard severity ("danger" is more severe than "warning"). A pictogram is a symbol or other graphic element intended to convey specific information about the chemical hazards. A hazard statement is assigned to a hazard class and category and describes the hazard's nature and degree.

Signal words, pictograms and hazard statements make up the core information GHS requires to be conveyed to hazardous chemical users. The core information specified for a chemical hazard category generally reflects the hazard severity. The most significant aspect of the GHS hazard classification process is chemical manufacturers and importers must evaluate each chemical for hazard class and category. Importantly, end users such as roofing contractors are not required to classify chemicals unless they choose not to rely on the classification a manufacturer or importer provides.

Changes relating to hazard classification, signal words, pictograms and hazard statements will look significantly different on containers. Use of signal words and hazard statements on product labels may not be as readily apparent as the pictograms shown in the figure. The hazard attempted to be conveyed by pictograms is not always obvious, so training workers about the nature and meaning of pictograms will be critical for your hazard communication program's effectiveness.

Safety data sheets

Information relating to chemical products in the workplace formerly reported on MSDSs now will be contained in consistently formatted SDSs. The requirement that a roofing contractor maintain an SDS in the workplace for each hazardous chemical used by workers is the same as required by the previous rule. Similarly, you still must ensure SDSs are readily accessible to workers during each work shift. Electronic or alternative access methods to maintaining paper copies of SDSs also are allowed as long as no barriers for worker access to information are presented by such methods.

Information and training

Worker information and training requirements under the new OSHA standard essentially correspond to the previous rule with only some slight changes. For example, you must provide workers with effective information and training addressing hazardous chemicals in the workplace at the time of their initial assignments and when a new chemical hazard is introduced to the workplace.

An example of this is when a different bonding adhesive, which presents chemical hazards not found in previously used products, is used on a job, such as when a flammable solvent-based adhesive is used in place of a nonflammable acrylic-based adhesive. Information and training can be designed to cover specific chemicals or broader-based hazard categories, such as flammability. Workers always must be able to obtain chemical-specific information from product labels and SDSs.

In addition, workers must be made aware of the hazard communication standard's training and information provisions; hazardous chemicals in the workplace; and the location and availability of the following:

  • The company's written hazard communication program
  • The list of hazardous chemicals present in the workplace
  • The SDSs required for the hazardous chemicals

Worker training must include:

  1. Methods and observations used to detect the presence of hazardous chemicals in the workplace, such as exposure monitoring, visual appearance or hazardous chemicals odor
  2. The specific hazards related to the chemicals in the workplace
  3. The actions workers can take to protect themselves from hazards, including work practices, emergency procedures and personal protective equipment
  4. The details of the roofing contractor's written hazard communication program, including an explanation of labels, SDSs, and how workers can obtain and use hazard information

Effective dates

You must train workers on the new standard's label formats and SDS requirements by Dec. 1, 2013. This necessarily will include information about the nature and significance of signal words, pictograms and hazard statements that soon may appear on labels. A fair amount of time and effort likely will be required to make workers aware of various pictograms' meanings used in the new standard. OSHA believes the new rule will provide higher quality and more consistent information to workers that will enhance their understanding of chemical hazards.

Chemical manufacturers and distributors have until June 1, 2015, to adopt the new SDS format and labeling revisions. After Dec. 1, 2015, manufacturers and distributors are prohibited from shipping products not labeled under the new labeling protocol. During the transition period, OSHA acknowledges labels and SDSs will be present in the workplace that reflect the current standard and revised standard. You will not be required to maintain two sets of SDSs or product labels­—compliance with the old or new version, or both, will be accepted. However, the transition rule does not change the requirement that training on the new label and SDS requirements for workers must be accomplished by Dec. 1, 2013.

Get ready

The new OSHA hazard communication standard contains some significant changes to align it with GHS. You can expect to spend a fair amount of administrative time bringing your hazard communication program into compliance. Efforts to ensure SDSs are current and in the new format likely will be the new standard's most burdensome aspect.

NRCA will produce a compliance program to assist roofing contractors with the worker-training requirements under the standard; the program will be available in 2013.

Harry Dietz is NRCA's director of risk management.

SDS topic headings

By Dec. 1, 2013, SDSs will need to be consistently formatted and must contain specific content under 16 uniform topic headings or sections set in an identical order for all SDSs. The mandated sections in appearance order are:
Section 1. Identification
Section 2. Hazard(s) identification
Section 3. Composition/information on ingredients
Section 4. First-aid measures
Section 5. Fire-fighting measures
Section 6. Accidental release measures
Section 7. Handling and storage
Section 8. Exposure controls/personal protection
Section 9. Physical and chemical properties
Section 10. Stability and reactivity
Section 11. Toxicological information
Section 12. Ecological information
Section 13. Disposal considerations
Section 14. Transport information
Section 15. Regulatory information
Section 16. Other information (preparation date or most recent revision)



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