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The industry had been bracing itself for the swift arrival of June 1st. As of that date, the Globally Harmonized System came into force under the jurisdiction of the U. S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration 2012 Hazard Communication Standard (OSHA HazCom 2012). These new waters open up many questions about how implementation will proceed, and what elements from the old system can still be incorporated in labels and Safety Data Sheets.

OSHA has kept busy providing supplemental information to guide us through this transition. Several letters of interpretation and OSHA Briefs provide a general overview of the label requirements in 29 CFR 1910.1200(f), and discuss what might become of elements which have been in use for decades. The American Coatings Association developed one such familiar hazard communication tool, the Hazardous Materials Identification System (HMIS). This system rates the hazards of a substance or mixture using a stacked color system: blue for health, red for flammability, orange for physical hazard and white for personal protection. This element uses the same color system as the National Fire Protection Administration (NFPA) fire diamond, and the basic zero-through-four rating captures the gamut of hazards.

So where will HMIS fit into this? OSHA published a Brief1 on Labels and Pictograms which clears up some of the gray area around the rule. In  a section titled Supplementary Information, OSHA states that “[T]he label producer may provide additional instructions or information that it deems helpful” in Section 2 of the Safety Data Sheet:

There is … no required format for how a workplace label must look and no particular format an employer has to use; however, it cannot contradict or detract from the required information. An example of an item that may be considered supplementary is the personal protective equipment (PPE) pictogram indicating what workers handling the chemical may need to wear to protect themselves. For example, the Hazardous Materials Identification System (HMIS) pictogram of a person wearing goggles may be listed. Other supplementary information may include directions of use, expiration date, or fill date, all of which may provide additional information specific to the process in which the chemical is used.

The emphasis in the above quote is placed on cannot contradict or detract from the required information. Which may be why the remainder of HMIS is not directly referenced in the Brief. Any previously utilized system which classifies the health or physical hazards or flammability of a substance has the potential to detract from or contradict the GHS classification. This is the main reason why the majority of HMIS would be advised against. However, label elements such as personal protective equipment pictograms could be viewed as supplemental information. They assist the worker in selecting the appropriate equipment to protect themselves from the hazards of the substance in a way in which previous training may have already reinforced. The determination of whether or not to use these elements is left to the employer.

This logic holds with any other system of classifying the hazards of substances, and it may be safe to say that if the pre-GHS system existed to communicate about hazards, it may be best to leave it off of your label. On the other hand, if the information can support the GHS classification and your worker’s capability to learn the risk statements or follow the precautionary measures, it might be helpful to retain it.

  1. One in a series of informational briefs highlighting OSHA programs, policies or standards: DSG BR-3636, published in February 2013.

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