Hazard Communication Standards still land in the top 5 most-cited OSHA violations, even though a half-decade has passed and tools are readily available. When OSHA revised HCS the Title 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1910.1200¹ it adopted the universal communication system of GHS for chemical products which included updates² to chemical hazard communication tools, container labeling, and training. The sheer volume of the update and the 40 million workers across 5 million workplaces that were affected made roll-out difficult and many businesses fell behind—and clearly, not everyone is up to date even today.
GHS Hazard Communication Violations
OSHA Hazard Communication Standard 1910.1200 resulted in more than 2,000 violations for the Fiscal year 2021, which is lower than when it first went into effect but is still a major cause of violations. While many businesses have made updates to their systems, Hazard Communication remains one of the most common OSHA violations, and citations spanned across construction, manufacturing, retail, finance, real estate, and other industries, totaling $4 million in penalties during the period of October 2021 to September 2022.
So why are businesses still failing inspections, and what can be done to prevent non-compliance fines? The answers are simple, and luckily, the solutions are too. Let’s first take a look at the source for the fines and then we’ll discuss tools to help prevent future accidents and meet OSHA guidelines. There are four likely areas where businesses will be found non-compliant:
Written Hazard Communication Program
Per the standards, OSHA requires a written Hazard Communication Program to be developed and implemented by the employer. This program documentation must describe how container labels, Safety Data Sheets, and employee information and training will be met. This also requires employers to maintain a list of all hazardous chemicals, and the methods for dealing with chemical hazards during special situations and non-routine tasks. Even if your business is compliant in every area of GHS, if you skip the written plan, you can still be found in violation of OSHA Hazard Communication Standards.
GHS-Compliant Container Labels
Chemical manufacturers and workplaces must label, tag, or mark containers of hazardous chemicals appropriately, per Appendix C of the Hazard Communication Standard³. Violations in this area center around businesses improperly labeling secondary containers. Manufacturers, distributors, and importers are required to label the original container to meet GHS requirements (product identifier, signal word, hazard statement, precautionary statement, health hazard pictograms, plus manufacturer information). When companies transfer chemicals into more portable containers or spray bottles, these vessels are often the culprits of violations because they lack GHS-compliant secondary container labels.
Missing or Outdated Safety Data Sheets
SDS compliance is an important part of the GHS requirements because these information sheets provide pertinent, potentially lifesaving information regarding proper handling, storage, and use of dangerous chemicals. Per Appendix D⁴ of the Hazard Communication guidelines for compliance, employers are required to have an SDS available for each hazardous chemical on-site, which will be provided by the chemical manufacturer or importer. Safety Data Sheets must be readily available and accessible to any employee interacting with hazardous chemicals.
Uninformed, Undertrained Employees
One very important requirement of OSHA Hazard Communication Standards is employee information and training. They must be informed about where chemicals are present, the location and availability of the Written Hazard Communication Program, and be knowledgeable about Safety Data Sheets. The training that employees must be provided with also includes how to detect the presence of a released hazard chemical (physical monitoring or devices), the physical, health, and other hazards of the chemicals in the work area, and how to protect themselves against chemical exposure, including when and where to wear personal protective equipment (as stated in the SDS).
Meeting Hazard Communication Guidelines for Compliance
There are many elements to each area of the GHS regulations, and negligence or misunderstanding can leave businesses susceptible to non-compliance fines, chemical accidents and spills, or some combination. After careful inspection of your Hazard Communication Program, there are simple tools and guidelines you can use as tactics for GHS compliance and improved safety around chemicals.
Strengthen Your Hazard Communication Program
Your Hazard Communication Program encompasses all of these elements: GHS labels, GHS-compliant Safety Data Sheets, and Hazard Communication Training. Implementing and maintaining every pillar of your program will make sure you’re meeting OSHA’s standards to avoid costly fines and prevent improper chemical handling. Here are some simple practices to remember:
- Appoint staff to spearhead different areas of the program to keep parties accountable and make it clear who does what and when.
- Make an inventory list of every hazardous chemical you have on-site.
- Record all duties and methods for SDS compliance, GHS labeling, and training in your Hazard Communication Plan.
- Evaluate your program and update it every time new chemicals, processes, or employees are introduced to your worksite.
- Invest in training booklets and keep them near SDS stations for quick reference.
Achieve GHS Compliance With Container Labels
Our GHS-compliant secondary container labels are easy-to-use solutions to keep your business off of the OSHA violations list. Choosing our container labels after migrating solutions into new vessels allows employees to quickly translate the manufacturer-provided information onto the container to meet guidelines. Simply check the pictogram that represents each hazard, and include other pertinent safety information, as listed below. We recommend using a permanent marker on the labels to make sure the details stay put as it is a violation for the information to be damaged, unreadable, or unclear.
GHS Compliant Label Requirements
The labels for chemical containers may be written on, printed, or attached to the container or its outside packaging (for distribution or shipping). Because labels must be maintained on chemicals, remain legible, and cannot be removed in any way, it is best to choose a self-adhesive label that will adhere securely and fit onto the container appropriately. Our labels in two convenient sizes give you options for labeling a large tank or a spray bottle, and they include space for all of the required GHS label information, which is:
- Product ID or Name
- Health Hazard Pictogram
- Signal Word
- Precautionary Statements
- Supplier Information
- Supplementary Hazard Information (optional)
This video demonstrates how simple and effective our GHS labels are:
Execute Your Plan for SDS Compliance
Safety Data Sheet violations are among the top cited sections of OSHA’s Hazard Communication guidelines for compliance, yet the violations are fairly simple to solve. You can’t just plan to keep the SDS maintained and orderly, you have to actually do it as defined by your written Hazard Communication Plan. To make sure your company is compliant with GHS SDS requirements, your plan and execution should answer:
- Who is responsible for obtaining the Safety Data Sheets
- The frequency of the SDS inspections and reviews
- Who updates the inventory list of chemicals on-site
- How and when new and existing employees are trained
- Who requests documentation from manufacturers and distributors
- How will access to SDS be provided to all employees, on all shifts, and to those who are working on remote job sites
- What is the backup plan for electronic SDS access in case of computer or power failure
Create a GHS-SDS Library Station
Create an accessible SDS library to meet OSHA requirements and avoid violations with our simple, yet effective solutions. Our brightly colored binders make your library stand out in any environment, and the wall racks keep the information at eye level so it won’t be missed. Use pre-cut floor tape kits to mark the areas in front of SDS stations as off-limits so the binders are always within reach, and use our wall signs to make sure the location is obvious from any angle.
Improve Staff Training for Chemical Hazards
Another key to meeting GHS and SDS compliance is through employee training and information. Documenting these training sessions and the names of attendees is helpful for your internal records to identify any gaps in coverage and it might be something you’ll need to answer during an inspection. This training prepares employees to demonstrate an understanding of the health hazard pictograms and SDS information, which is important for their health and safety and can save your business from incurring fines due to non-compliance during an inspection. While employees do not need to know the Hazard Communication Standards verbatim, they should be trained on:
- The hazards they are exposed to in normal situations and during special processes
- How and where to access the Safety Data Sheets
- How to read the SDS, secondary labels, and original label text and pictograms to determine hazards and handling
- Safe practices and protective measures when dealing with chemicals
Make sure employees’ hazard communication training is effective by observing workers and interviewing them to verify protocols and procedures are understood. This practice can help you identify where information is lacking so you can make improvements before you’re found in violation of OSHA standards and before there is an accident due to mishandling or improper storage.
GHS labeling and SDS are important facets of keeping employees informed and safe around hazardous chemicals. Not only will employers who comply avoid costly fines, but these standards also help strengthen safety. When the solutions are relatively inexpensive and simple to implement, there’s no reason any business should be found non-compliant with GHS-SDS standards. Review our GHS Resources for how-to guides, articles, and information to make compliance part of your daily routine, and find tips for creating a safe, organized workplace in our Resource Center.