Carpet Cleaning Business Management / Web Exclusive Features

5 Keys to Complying with OSHA’s New HazCom Standard

For carpet cleaners and restoration companies, there is still time to get ahead of the compliance curve

OSHA logo blue blackCleaning specialists in the United States have work to do in 2013 if they are going to stay compliant with OSHA’s changes to the Hazard Communication Standard (HazCom or HCS). The standard covers the classification of hazardous chemicals and protects the right of employees to understand the risks of the chemicals they are exposed to in the workplace. It was revised in 2012 to align with the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, or GHS for short.

GHS is an approach to chemical hazard communication that incorporates best practices from around the world. The UN’s goal is to get global adoption of the system, thereby synchronizing the HazCom regulations of adopting countries.

OSHA was instrumental in the development of GHS, so its eventual adoption of the system is no surprise. OSHA is calling its newly aligned standard “HazCom 2012.” The adoption of GHS brings three major changes to the HCS:

  1. Chemical manufacturers and distributors must reclassify chemicals using GHS criteria, resulting in hazard classes (e.g. flammability, carcinogenicity, gases under pressure) being subdivided into hazard categories that reflect the degree or severity of the hazard.
  2. Labels on shipped containers of hazard chemicals must be standardized with six required elements: (1)product identifier, (2) manufacturer information, (3)pictogram(s), (4) signal word, (5) hazard statement(s), (6)precautionary statement(s)
  3. Safety data sheets must be produced using the GHS format of 16 sections in a very strict order.

For carpet cleaning companies and restoration specialists, items Nos. 2 and 3 above will drive most of their compliance activity, with the first compliance deadline – Dec. 1, 2013 – fast approaching. By that date, employers must train employees to understand the new GHS label elements and safety data sheet formats. That requirement is just the beginning, so to help companies jumpstart the transition to GHS, here are five keys to complying with HazCom 2012: 

Key No. 1: Understand GHS and Compliance Deadlines

There are four compliance deadlines the cleaning and restoration industry should be tracking:

  • December 1, 2013: Date by which employees must be trained on new label elements and GHS-formatted safety data sheets.
  • June 1, 2015: Date by which manufacturers and distributors must have classified and categorized their chemicals using GHS criteria and produced accompanying labels and safety data sheets in the GHS format.
  • December 1, 2015: End of distributor grace period to get rid of inventory with pre-HazCom 2012 labels and safety data sheets.
  • June 1, 2016: Date by which employers must fully comply with HazCom 2012, including the updating of workplace hazard communication programs and secondary container labeling systems as necessary, and the training of employees on any newly identified hazards.

Transition:During the period of transition, employers can be compliant with either the old or the new HazCom standard (or a combination of the two). At no time during the transition can employers let protections drop for employees.

Everyone involved in the cleaning and restoration industry should get familiar with GHS. For individual companies, it makes sense to start by designating a point person to lead the education effort and to manage the in-house transition to HazCom 2012. OSHA has a dedicated website for HazCom 2012 (, with lots of great information to help safety leaders get started.  

Key No. 2: Get Your Chemical House in Order

Transitioning to GHS compliance is going to be extra-challenging for those cleaning and restoration companies that were out compliance with the HazCom Standard from the start. Today employers must:

  1. Have, and make available to employees, a written HazCom program that describes the specific chemical hazards employees are exposed to and how the company is addressing employee safety through training, labeling and the requisite hazard controls.
  2. As part of the written HazCom program, have a written inventory listing every hazardous chemical to which employees are exposed to in the workplace. This includes the obvious chemicals, like those used in the cleaning of carpets and restoration work, as well as the not so obvious ones, like paint in the supply closet and the fertilizer in the garden shed.
  3. Properly employ labels and warning signs in the workplace. Every hazardous chemical, whether in a manufacturer container or a secondary workplace container, must be properly labeled.
  4. Maintain a safety data sheet for every hazardous chemical and make them available to employees in their work areas during their work shifts. Employers with a mobile workforce (common in the carpet cleaning and restoration industry) may need to take additional steps to ensure employees have proper access to safety information when working off site.
  5. Train employees on applicable chemical hazards prior to their exposure.

If OSHA were to come in for an inspection today, the preceding requirements are ones an inspector would expect to already be in place.

Key No. 3: Train Employees on New GHS Labels and Safety Data Sheets

Again, labels and safety data sheets have a new look under HazCom 2012. Because many manufacturers and distributors have already updated their safety data sheets and labels, OSHA wants employees trained on the new formats by Dec. 1 at the latest.

On the labeling side, there are two types of labels OSHA talks about, labels on shipped containers and workplace or secondary container labels. The six required elements of labels on shipped containers have already been discussed. For workplace labels, OSHA says in the final rule that employers can continue to use their current systems as long as they align with GHS classification criteria.

More specifically, the HazCom 2012 regulatory text says for workplace labels employers can use: A) the same elements found on labels of shipped containers (minus manufacturer contact info), or B) some combination of those same elements that together with training and other materials in the workplace provides the employee with specific information regarding the physical and health hazards of a given chemical.

The Final Rule on HazCom 2012 also explicitly says employers can continue to use NFPA and HMIS labeling systems, so long as those labels perform effectively in the workplace. Of course, in that case, employers would still be required to train on GHS labels as well.

Material safety data sheets under GHS are simply called safety data sheets. The “M” for material has been dropped from the familiar term MSDS. Still, whether they are called MSDSs or SDSs, safety data sheets continue to serve the same function they always have. The big difference with the GHS format is that there are 16 sections in a strict order, very similar to the current ANSI Standard. Section 2 of a safety data sheet is where employers and emergency responders will find hazard identification information.

The strict formatting of safety data sheets should reduce the risk of confusion inherent in the current environment where the number and order of sections of an MSDS document can vary wildly. Once HazCom 2012 is fully implemented in the United States, employees will always know where to find specific information on a safety data sheet, regardless of manufacturer or product.

By Dec. 1, OSHA expects employees will be able to recognize and understand the new label elements and have a good working familiarity with safety data sheets. In turn, trained employees can benefit employers by helping to identify new labels and safety documents as they enter the facility. As we will see in Key No. 4, employers have a number of tasks to perform when updated documents arrive.

Employers will want to keep excellent records on all employee training as OSHA is expected to be vigilant in ensuring compliance with its first HazCom 2012 deadline.

Key No. 4: Prepare for Full HazCom 2012 Compliance

When a new safety data sheet enters the facility, it should be compared to the older version to determine if any new hazards or precautions have been listed. New hazards may require additional training of affected employees. New hazards may also require new secondary container labels for legacy chemicals.

Regarding older chemicals, OSHA believes this transition time is a great opportunity for employers to use up and safely dispose of older chemicals. Keeping unneeded chemicals in the workplace equates to unnecessary risk and liability.

Remember, employers have until June 1, 2016 to be in full compliance. Now is the time to ensure budgets and resources are properly aligned to meet future deadlines.

Key No. 5: Get Help If You Need It

With every safety data sheet getting re-authored, carpet cleaners and restoration companies will see their entire MSDS library updated in a short time frame. For employers with many safety data sheets, it will represent a significant organizational challenge – tracking the new documents and ensuring they are properly deployed to employees.

To mitigate the time and costs of managing the safety data sheet churn, many companies are turning to electronic management of safety data sheets. In addition to flagging new documents in the GHS format, a good electronic system takes information found on the safety data sheet and uses it to automatically produce compliant secondary container labels, provides robust mobile access, provides container scanning capabilities and serves as a regulatory cross-referencing engine.   

Similarly, for those companies needing help reclassifying chemicals, authoring safety data sheets and training employees on HazCom 2012, a number of resources are available in the marketplace.


Currently, there are more than 65 countries that have already adopted or are in the process of adopting GHS — Canada and Mexico included. Mexico has already adopted GHS, while Canada is expected to publish a proposed rule on GHS adoption in Q2 or Q3 of 2013, with implementation in 2015. The United States and Canada are working closely to ensure compatibility between each country’s chemical regulations after GHS adoption.

For carpet cleaners and restoration companies, there is still time to get ahead of the compliance curve. But that window is quickly closing.

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