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February 11, 2021

OSHA’s Proposed Updates to Hazard Communication Standard Will Include Particle Characteristics

Lynn L. Bergeson Carla N. Hutton

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is scheduled to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on February 16, 2021, that would modify the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) to conform to the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) Revision 7 “to address issues that arose during the implementation of the 2012 update to the HCS, and provide better alignment with other U.S. agencies and international trading partners, without lowering overall protections of the standard.”  The NPRM notes that “the change in section 9 (physical characteristics to include particle characteristics) will identify exposure issues that are not addressed by the current format.”  According to the NPRM, “[t]his should, among other things, improve the hazard information required for nanomaterials.”

The NPRM states that in addition to directly enhancing worker protections through improved hazard communication, updating the HCS will also improve the availability of information to support larger efforts to address workplace hazards such as the use of aggregate exposures and cumulative risk models for use in setting occupational exposure limits and assessing impacts on worker health.  The NPRM uses the increased use of nanosilver in consumer products as a “real-world example of the potential effects of aggregate exposure.”  The NPRM cites a 2018 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) review of nanosilver and states that the review “indicates that the current OSHA [permissible exposure limit (PEL)] for silver is adequate to protect workers from silver’s adverse health effects.”  The NPRM claims that the increased presence of nanosilver in consumer products, as well as the increased environmental exposures from the manufacture, use, and disposal of these consumer products, “indicates that the OSHA PEL may be inadequate to protect workers if nanosilver continues to be added to new consumer products.”  According to the NPRM, “[t]his example highlights the importance of an effective overarching hazard communication strategy in understanding and managing exposures and risk.”

Comments on the NPRM, including requests for hearing, will be due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.  OSHA states that it will schedule an informal public hearing on the NPRM if a request is made during the comment period.  If a hearing is requested, OSHA will announce the details in the Federal Register.