Hazard Communications SDS Revision

The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) has been revised to align the United States with the United Nations Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of chemical classification. The revision changes and specifies requirements for hazard classification of chemicals, standardizes labels for hazardous chemical containers and specifies the format and required content for the new Safety Data Sheets (SDSs).

All employers with employees who are or are potentially exposed to hazardous chemicals known to be present in their workplaces must develop, implement and maintain at each workplace a written hazard communication program that includes container labeling and other forms of warning, SDSs and training. Employers who already have a Haz Com program in place will need to revise and update their program to be in compliance with the revisions.

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HCS does not specify how the program is to be maintained, but it does specify that employees must have access to the written hazard communication program, including the SDSs. Therefore, the employer may maintain the program either on paper or in electronic format, as long as the program meets all other requirements of the standard. Although there have been other changes to the HCS, this article will focus on what employers must do as it relates to the SDS.

SDS means written or printed material concerning a hazardous chemical that is prepared in accordance with the new provisions of the HCS standard.

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The SDS is replacing the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) previously used, which will result in employers having to obtain copies of the new SDS for each hazardous chemical. In addition, employers will have to educate employees about the new SDS format and show employees how they can gain unhindered access to the company’s SDS files. For example, the employer must ensure that employees know how to access the documents and that there are no barriers to employees’ access (e.g., storage in a locked jobsite trailer or no access to a fax machine).

Compliance deadlines were established and the process of integrating the GHS into the HCS has already started. The next deadline is Dec. 1, 2015, the date which distributors are expected to only ship chemicals with the SDSs and shipping labels in the updated GHS format which incorporates pictograms, signal words, hazard warnings and precautionary statements. Employers must update their written hazard communication program, any alternative workplace labeling, update SDS files and provide additional employee training no later than June 1, 2016.

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Safety Data Sheets

The employer must establish a plan to ensure that data sheets are available to all employees who could be exposed to a hazardous chemical during the course of their work. Employers should start by:

  • Designating the person(s) responsible for obtaining/maintaining the SDSs. In the event the employer has not received an SDS and has made a good faith effort to contact the manufacturer, importer or distributor and still has not been able to receive an SDS, the OSHA Area Office should be contacted to provide assistance.
  • Deciding how the data sheets are to be maintained (e.g., in notebooks in the work area(s), in a pickup truck at the jobsite or via fax or e-mail), procedures on how to retrieve SDSs electronically, including backup systems to be used in the event of failure of the electronic equipment and how employees obtain access to the SDSs.
  • Developing a plan to ensure that information from the SDS is available to employees in a manner they can understand. There is no requirement to translate SDSs; however, employees who cannot read and/or speak English must still understand the information included in the SDSs.
  • Establishing a procedure to follow if the SDS is not received at the time of the first shipment of the chemical to your facility or jobsite.
  • Establishing a procedure to follow if it is suspected that the SDS is not appropriate or incomplete (e.g., missing hazards or other required information).
  • Establishing a procedure to determine if the SDS is current.


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Maintenance of SDSs

  • Employers assume no responsibility for the content and accuracy of the SDS provided to them by the manufacturer, importer or distributor unless the employer changes the SDS.
  • Employers are required to maintain SDSs (or MSDSs) for each hazardous chemical they use. The HCS does not specify how the SDS is to be maintained (e.g., paper, electronic), as long as employees have immediate access to the SDS in their work area.
  • Employers are permitted to maintain SDSs in an electronic format. However, employees must not be required to make an internet search for an SDS. When maintained electronically on a company website or through a SDS service provider, employees must be trained how to obtain SDSs and provided with access to a computer, tablet or fax machine, without restrictions. The employer cannot require workers to ask for the SDS or for permission to have access the SDSs files.
  • If an SDS is provided for a non-hazardous material, the employer is not required under HCS to maintain that SDS.
  • Employers must maintain the most recent received version of the SDS, found in Section 16, which should include the date of preparation or last revision.
  • Different manufacturers, importers and distributors may issue SDSs at different times. An employer that is maintaining an MSDS for a product not recently received, even after June 1, 2015, would be considered to be compliant with HCS 2012 unless the manufacturer, importer or distributor has provided an SDS and the employer did not maintain the new SDS.


Mobile Worksite Access

  • SDSs may be stored at a primary workplace instead of a mobile, remote or temporary worksite (e.g., construction worksite), as long as there are no restrictions to workers’ access.
  • If the SDSs are stored at the primary workplace, the employer must ensure there is no delay in a worker receiving a requested SDS while at any mobile, remote or temporary worksite.
  • Access may be accomplished by having a representative always available at the primary workplace or through other technological means (e.g., e-mail, smartphone, electronic tablet).

The SDSs will have a standardized 16-section format The SDS contains the same information as the MSDS, except now the SDSs are required to be presented in a consistent, user-friendly, 16-section format.
The SDS includes information such as: the properties of each chemical; the physical, health and environmental health hazards; protective measures; and safety precautions for handling, storing and transporting the chemical. The information contained in the SDS must be in English (although it may be in other languages as well). In addition, OSHA requires that SDS preparers provide specific minimum information as detailed in Appendix D of 29 CFR 1910.1200. The SDS preparers may also include additional information in various section(s). Sections 1 through 8 contain general information about the chemical, identification, hazards, composition, safe handling practices and emergency control measures (e.g., fire fighting). This information should be helpful to those that need to get the information quickly. Sections 9 through 11 and 16 contain other technical and scientific information, such as physical and chemical properties, stability and reactivity information, toxicological information, exposure control information and other information including the date of preparation or last revision. The SDS must also state that no applicable information was found when the preparer does not find relevant information for any required element.

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The SDS must also contain Sections 12 through 15, to be consistent with the GHS, but OSHA will not enforce the content of these sections because they concern matters handled by other agencies.
For more detailed descriptions of each section of the SDS, visit www.osha.gov and search for SDS Brief.

Compliance Information

The Hazard Communications section on OSHA’s website contains useful information on labeling and SDSs, as well as pictograms, Quick Cards (English and Spanish) and much more. Employers have six months left to revise and update their current Haz Com program as necessary. Start collecting the new SDSs now or arrange for an SDS service provider to ensure you will have all the SDSs you need to be in compliance. Last but not least, provide additional employee training before the full compliance date of June 15, 2016, arrives. Get started now and avoid headaches later.

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George Kennedy is NUCA Vice President of Safety.