Intro to Hazard Communication, Part Three: Labeling Requirements

Hopefully you’ve read Part One and Part Two of our Intro to Hazard Communication series, and you’re starting to get a handle on your obligations. If you have, congratulations! If not, and you’re looking for a broad overview of HazCom and some compliance strategies, please feel free to check out those earlier posts. If you’re up to speed with the background and are looking for some labeling guidance, please read on!

In Part One of the series, we talked about how dangerous the US workplace was before the HazCom Standard. Workers often didn’t even know what chemicals they were working with, and therefore had no preparation or awareness about how to work with them safely. A big reason for the lack of information is that chemical containers often weren’t labeled, or had labels that had incomplete or poorly organized information. That’s why the HazCom standard includes strict labeling requirements, and it’s also why OSHA opted to revisit and improve those requirements by aligning with the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) in 2012.

With that context in mind, let’s continue your HazCom journey by taking a look at the nuances of labeling under the HazCom standard.

Understand Your Identity

The first thing you need to do to manage your labeling requirements effectively is to figure out who you are. I realize that might sound a little strange, but it’s true. Under the HazCom Standard, your obligations are determined by your identity as it relates to containers of hazardous chemicals. So, take a moment to ask yourself the following questions.

1) Do I manufacture, import or distribute hazardous chemicals?

The HazCom Standard defines a chemical manufacturer as “an employer with a workplace where chemical(s) are produced for use or distribution. A chemical importer is “the first business with employees within the Customs Territory of the United States which receives hazardous chemicals produced in other countries for the purpose of supplying them to distributors or employers within the United States.” So basically, we need to determine if we are causing new chemicals to enter the workplace, either by directly making them or by bringing them into our workplace from outside the country.

A chemical distributor supplies chemicals to other distributors or employers. In other words, in most cases if we are sending chemicals to other downstream users, we are distributing them according to OSHA’s view.

This is all important to understand, because the HazCom Standard requires chemical manufacturers, importers or distributors to ensure that each container of hazardous chemicals leaving the workplace is labeled according to very specific requirements, which we’ll review shortly.

2) Do I remove chemicals from their shipped containers and place them in secondary containers?

Secondary containers are often also called workplace containers, because they are literally the types of containers an employer will store chemicals in within the workplace after removing them from the containers shipped to them by the manufacturer. As we’ll see, there are many different kinds of workplace containers, and you have labeling obligations for all of them!

Before we dig into the details of labeling requirements, please keep in mind that your identity is not necessarily going to be one or the other of these two choices. If you don’t manufacture or import chemicals, you’ll only have to worry about workplace container labeling. However, even if you’re a large chemical manufacturer, you will almost certainly also have workplace container labeling obligations for any secondary containers you use to move or store the chemicals that you ultimately package and ship. So, you may very well play both of these roles to different degrees under different circumstances. If your operations change in a significant way, remember that your labeling requirements may change with them.

Now that you have a clearer understanding of your own identity, let’s continue on with a closer look at the requirements for shipped labels and workplace labels.

Shipped Label Requirements

If you are a manufacturer, distributor or importer who ships chemicals to downstream users, you’re going to need to develop shipped labels and affix them to the immediate containers of those chemicals before you ship them to customers.

Of course, the very first thing you need to do is to classify the hazards of your chemical products. Appendix A of the HazCom Standard describes how to classify the health hazards of your chemicals, and Appendix B describes how to classify the physical hazards of the chemicals. Once you’ve completed that process, you’re ready to move on to Appendix C, which tells you how to allocate physical and health hazard information on a shipped container label.

There are six required elements of a shipped label:

  • Manufacturer identification: The name, address and telephone number for the chemical manufacturer. An OSHA letter of interpretation recently clarified that if you import chemicals, and the SDSs authored outside the United States list foreign phone numbers and addresses as primary contacts in Section 1, you may be responsible for authoring new SDSs containing domestic contacts in Section 1.
  • Product identification: The identification of the hazardous chemical, either by the chemical name, CAS registry number or batch number.
  • Signal word: This is a word used to indicate the severity of the chemical hazards. There are only two possible signal words you’ll see: “Danger” and “Warning.” The most severe hazards are designated by the signal word “Danger.” What if the same chemical product has hazards that merit a “warning” and others that merit a “danger?” You’ll still only see “danger” on the label, because it’s the more severe of the two.
  • Hazard statement: These are statements describing the specific hazards of a chemical, such as “Causes damage to kidneys through prolonged or repeated exposure when absorbed through the skin.” Chemical manufacturers should always use the same exact statement for the same chemical hazards, so that the dangers are completely clear to all users.
  • Precautionary statement: These are recommendations for measures users can take to minimize risks of use and storage, or to respond to chemical incidents. These statements may address storage practices, including incompatible materials to avoid. For example, keep drums of strong acids away from strong bases! (As a consultant, I once saw a location that had drums of sulfuric acid stacked directly on top of drums of sodium hydroxide. If you know even a little bit about chemistry, you know that’s probably not a good idea!) Statements may also include clean-up and disposal measures in the event of a release, and first-aid treatment following an exposure.
  • Pictograms: In Intro to HazCom, Part One, we talked a little about the reasons behind the United Nations’ (UN) development of the Globally Harmonized System. As you may recall, stakeholders from multiple countries and agencies discussed shortcomings with hazard communication regulations. The GHS incorporates methods to correct these issues, for example, by replacing the high degree of variability in SDS format with a standardized 16-section format. The GHS also harmonized the pictograms that could be used by chemical manufacturers to communicate the hazards of their chemical products.

There are 9 pictograms that can be used to represent the various hazard classifications. Eight of them are mandatory if triggered by the hazard classification process, while the ninth pictogram (for environmental hazards) is optional. The pictograms are shown below, and must be represented exactly as shown to avoid confusion.

These don’t have to be presented in any particular order on the shipped label, but they must be present when required based on the classification process. You may provide any additional information you think might be helpful as long as the shipped label includes the six required elements above, and doesn’t include any information that contradicts the required information or causes confusion.

What would OSHA consider to be contradictory or confusing information? Great question! One example might be a diamond-shaped symbol in red, white and black that is not one of the nine pictograms shown above. Such a symbol could be easily confused for a GHS/HazCom pictogram. In an emergency, any uncertainty about a chemical’s hazards is dangerous.

Workplace Labeling Requirements

The first thing to know about workplace containers is that you most likely have a lot more of them than you realize.

You probably aware of some of the more visible containers, such as transfer buckets and safety cans, but you might not realize that machine reservoirs are workplace containers, too. These are the internal tanks within larger machines for holding oil or coolant. These tend to be out of sight and out of mind, because you don’t notice them the way you notice a drum or tank sitting in the corner. However, you have obligations to communicate the hazards of these chemicals to your employees all the same.

In some workplaces, there may be dozens or even hundreds of machines with fluid reservoirs, and if you don’t have a labeling system for those containers, your employees are at risk. Knowing the number and capacity of all of these containers will also help you determine the applicability of environmental regulations like Spill Prevention Countermeasure and Control Act (SPCC), or Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) Tier II reporting.

While you’re inspecting the reservoirs of large machines out on the shop floor, you may also want to direct your attention to the area underneath those machines. You’ll likely see “drip pans” beneath the fluid hoses and fittings, as well as a little bit of leakage of whatever fluid is in the system – typically some form of oil. Hopefully you’ll also see a workplace label on the pan indicating the fluid inside and any associated hazard information. If you don’t, you at least can take consolation in knowing you’re far from being the first person to forget to label these containers, but it’s important that you get busy labeling them right away!

So, a big part of getting workplace labeling right is recognizing all of your secondary containers, and making sure that any and all of them are labeled. Another important piece is understanding the HazCom Standard’s requirements for workplace labeling.

Unlike the very prescriptive requirements for shipped container labels, HazCom requirements for workplace labels are more flexible. Employers do have a few options. You can either replicate the manufacturer’s shipped container label, or you can create your own workplace labels containing the product identifier and a combination of other pieces of chemical hazard information. Please see the image below to get an idea what these options might look like.

But please realize that these options aren’t equally good! The easiest, most effective option is to simply replicate the manufacturer’s shipped label. Do this, and you’ve met your labeling obligations. If you choose an option other than that, you’re going to need a system in place to provide any information from the shipped label that isn’t directly included on your workplace label. That additional information may include training, work instructions, risk assessments, signage, and the SDSs for the chemical in question.

The key point here is that any alternative workplace labeling system, consisting of the label plus other information, must provide your workers with immediate access to specific information regarding the physical and health hazards of the chemical. Even more importantly, you’ll need to be ready to prove to OSHA that your system works in the event they ever ask – such as during an inspection. That’s why we recommend simply replicating the shipped label whenever possible.

If you consistently work with specific chemicals in your operations and place them in workplace containers, you can buy secondary containers from certain industrial supply stores that come with pre-affixed labels containing the chemical name and other hazard communication elements, such as pictograms. In a recent letter of interpretation, OSHA stated that the use of these pre-labeled containers is consistent with their workplace labeling requirements, as long as your system makes all hazardous chemical information available to workers. This includes any information from the shipped label that’s not included on the workplace label. So again, use the labeling system that works best for you, but replicating the shipped label for use on your workplace containers remains the easiest, most direct way to demonstrate compliance in the event of an OSHA inspection.

A good software-based chemical management solution can be a big help here. The right software can let you quickly print a workplace label that replicates the shipped label, giving you a consistent workplace labeling system that efficiently conveys chemical hazard information to your workers. Do you have smaller workplace containers such as test tubes and vials that don’t have enough space for a full shipped label, and may often need to be replaced as they become illegible? A good solution will enable you to easily create and print labels containing selected GHS elements that, in combination with training and other elements, can help you provide the required hazard information to your employees.

Lastly, the details of your labeling system need to be clearly documented in your written HazCom Plan. We’ll take a closer look at the challenges of writing and maintaining a good HazCom Plan in the next installment of our Intro to HazCom series. Be sure to stay tuned!

Let VelocityEHS Help!

For additional information on HazCom compliance and best practices, be sure to check out our resources page for a variety of complimentary white papers & guides, webinars and the MSDSonline Blog

Are you uncertain about your SDS authoring and labeling requirements, or do you have concerns about compliance? Contact the MSDSonline Authoring Services Team to learn how we can help you. We offer expert SDS and label authoring services that let you take the time, cost and guesswork out of HazCom compliance. Combined with our comprehensive suite of Regulatory Consulting Services, including SDS Compliance Check, we’ll help you ensure your SDSs and labels are fully aligned with OSHA’s HazCom requirements.

Need help completing or updating your chemical inventory? Let us do the heavy lifting by using our On-Site Chemical Inventory Audit service. We’ll send an experienced chemical safety expert to your location to create a site-specific chemical inventory just for you. During the audit process, we’ll capture each chemical’s Product Name, Manufacturer, and Product Code (if applicable) and where each product resides at your location, giving you an accurate snapshot of your entire chemical footprint.

Our MSDSonline SDS & Chemical Management platform can give you total visibility and control over the chemicals in your inventory, making it easy to give your entire workforce access to SDSs anytime, anywhere. In addition, MSDSonline’s chemical ingredient indexing features help you understand precisely what’s in your chemical products, and flag ingredients that are subject to regulatory requirements, such as EPCRA.

We can also help you understand and meet your small container labeling requirements. Download our Guide to Labeling Small Containers for detailed guidance on the nuances of HazCom compliance when it comes to labeling both small shipped containers and workplace containers. Don’t forget that when you use MSDSonline for SDS and chemical management, you’ll get the capability to quickly print workplace labels for the full range of container sizes in your workplace, helping you simplify HazCom compliance and give your workers the knowledge they need to work safely.

To learn more, Request Your Free Trial Today or give us a call at 1.888.362.2007.

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