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ERA's Environmental Compliance Management Blog

OSHA HCS 2015: The Consequences of Noncompliance

Posted by Ria Mali

burned_money_blogThe next deadline for OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) is on the horizon. Designed to fully align the U.S. chemical industry with the United Nation’s Globally Harmonized System (GHS), this Final Rule comes fully into effect on June 1, 2015. That’s when chemical manufacturers must be prepared to comply with all modified provisions—including proper classification of hazardous chemicals and the development of safety data sheets (SDSs)/labels for chemical mixtures.

Chemical distributors will have an additional six months (until December 1, 2015) before it becomes their legal responsibility to ship all products with compliant chemical labels.

But what will happen to companies that aren’t ready? Here are three serious consequences chemical manufacturing companies may experience if their safety data is not reclassified and reformatted before June 2015:

OSHA Citations

For upstream chemical manufacturers, importers, and product formulators, noncompliance could result in significant fines and penalties. Exact amounts depend on the number and severity of violations at hand, but any type of penalty could create major damage to a company’s reputation. OSHA citations often become leading news stories in industry publications, local newspapers, and across the Internet—as was the case for MB Consultants, dba Murray’s Chicken’s last year.

Manufacturers who are curious about inspection procedures for the OSHA HCS can find information on the OSHA website. At present, this enforcement guidance memo is still applicable, but it is in the process of being updated. A new HCS compliance instruction guide will be released sometime this summer; representatives recommend checking back with the OSHA website throughout the coming months.

GHS transition

Lost Business

Here’s some good news: OSHA won’t penalize a manufacturer or importer for failing to meet this year’s June deadline so long as the company exercised “reasonable diligence and good faith” in attempting to obtain compliant SDSs/classification information from upstream suppliers. In these cases, companies may continue using material safety data sheets (MSDSs) and chemical labels that comply with OSHA HCS 1994.

But most companies won’t like being caught in this position—especially if they can procure similar chemicals and raw materials from suppliers who are Final Rule compliant. In fact, many Fortune 500 companies have already implemented preferable purchasing plans that favor companies who provide timely material data that’s GHS compliant.

If you’re a supplier, you may even want to take your material data responsibility one step further. Best-in-class chemical companies are actually setting up electronic portals, so they can receive real-time data directly from suppliers. Complying with HCS on time (or ahead of schedule), plus having your chemical data in digital format, will make it  easier to share across the supply chain. Compared to the cost of losing competitive edge, this extra layer of work isn’t much work at all—especially if you have the right SDS tools.

Safety Risks

OSHA HCS also mandates employee training deadlines that have already passed. (By December 2013, employers were required to train team members on the new chemical label elements and SDS format.) So for many companies, employers have learned to do things one way, while continuing to work with differently structured, pre-GHS documents. Why is this a concern?

Experts say students retain 75 percent of what they learn when the material is used in practice. Students retain a full 90 percent of what they learn when they teach the material to someone else, or implement it immediately. But that’s not happening for employees in the current chemical manufacturing environment. And although OSHA extensions create leeway for companies who are waiting on suppliers, extensions could also impede primary safety goals. Having consistent information will reduce the likelihood of serious injury.

The sooner you get your employees utilizing the GHS training they received in 2013, the smoother the June 2015 transition will be and your workplace will be safer. That means increased productivity, minimized worker compensation, employees will be safe to do their jobs, and little to no OSHA violations.

So what are your questions about OSHA’s HCS Final Rule? Have you reclassified and reformatted your safety data yet?  Have you digitized your safety data? Are your efforts delayed by suppliers?

Please share your challenges in the comments below, and we’ll gladly provide our advice!

View Guide on GHS Business Risks & Opportunities

Image used with permission from See-Ming Lee

Topics: SDS