It seems like so long ago (just over three years, to be exact) that OSHA revised its Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) to align with the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). But an important HCS deadline is fast approaching – it is time to say goodbye to the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).

The revised HCS requires that all chemical manufacturers, importers, employers, and distributors replace Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) with new, GHS-approved Safety Data Sheets (SDS). The information contained in a SDS is largely the same as in a MSDS, but it is laid out in a consistent, 16-section format set forth in this OSHA Brief.

Manufacturers and importers must provide the new SDSs for all hazardous chemicals they manufacture or import by June 1, 2015. But what about manufacturers or formulators that rely on raw materials from other suppliers? According to a recent Guidance Memo, OSHA “will exercise its enforcement discretion”, allowing a “reasonable time period” for downstream users to come into compliance with the new requirement. In exercising this discretion, OSHA will evaluate whether the downstream user has exercised “reasonable diligence” and “good faith efforts.” But what does that mean? According to OSHA Guidance, manufacturers and importers must be prepared to show significant efforts to:

  • Obtain the classification information and SDSs from upstream suppliers in a time frame that would have allowed for compliance with the June 1, 2015 deadline,
  • Find hazard information from other sources (such as chemical registries), and
  • Classify the data themselves.

OSHA will expect to see both oral and written documentation of these efforts in order to avoid enforcement. In addition, the manufacturer or importer will need a clear timeline for when it expects to be in compliance.

Distributors of hazardous chemicals may continue to ship chemicals with the old MSDSs until December 1, 2015, to allow time to clear stock. Of course, some distributors will likely find themselves without SDSs from suppliers come December 2 for the very reason described above – a manufacturer or importer cannot comply with the June 1, 2015 deadline, despite “reasonable diligence” and “good faith efforts” to obtain the information. In this situation, the distributor will also have to show its own “reasonable diligence” and “good faith efforts” to comply in order to avoid enforcement. Distributors that are able to do so will be permitted to ship with prior-compliant MSDSs until December 1, 2017.

The revised HCS mandates that employers ensure that their employees have easy access to the SDSs for the hazardous chemicals in their workplace. The OSHA Brief provides some examples for how employers can satisfy this requirement, including using binders or computers to store the SDSs. Compliance requires that employers make sure employees have immediate access to the SDSs, and that a back-up is available.