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Delay Urged in Chemical Label Changes

Thursday, May 28, 2015

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ARLINGTON, VA—With "panic and chaos" erupting over impending new federal labeling requirements, the chemical industry is seeking an 11th-hour delay on the rule.

The National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD) petitioned the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on May 21 for "an immediate, short-term administrative stay" in enforcing part of its new Hazard Communication Standard (HCS).

The rule, revised in 2012, is set to take effect Sunday (June 1).

However, chemical distributors now say their members need until Dec. 1 to implement the required changes for products that were previously labeled and stored in their existing inventory.

©iStock.com / JohnnyH5

New U.S. rules set to take effect Sunday (June 1) are aimed at simplifying and standardizing chemical warning labels and at aligning U.S. labeling with global standards.

NACD members are distributors and supply-chain partners who formulate, blend, re-package, warehouse, transport, and market chemical products for over 750,000 customers.

Previously, the American Coatings Association and other affected trade groups successfully petitioned for additional enforcement consideration on the impending rule.

'Common and Coherent' Labeling

At issue is Sunday's upcoming deadline for chemical manufacturers and importers to align their safety data sheets and labels for coatings, paints and other chemical mixtures with OSHA's revised HCS.

The new rules will affect about 945,000 hazardous chemical products handled by 100 million workers in seven million workplaces, officials say.

Among other changes, the rules will replace the longstanding Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) with a standardized Safety Data Sheet (SDS) presented in a consistent, user-friendly, 16-section format.


Greater use of pictograms—for hazards such as (from left) corrosives, flammable liquids and non-toxic gases—should make material hazards more clear, regulators say.

The 1994 standard was revised in 2012 to align with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS), developed by the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe.

The goal of the changes, summarized as "the right to understand," is to provide a "common and coherent approach to classifying chemicals and communicating hazard information on labels and safety data sheets."

The new guidelines require clear, concise descriptions that avoid jargon, abbreviations and ambiguous phrases such as "harmless" or “safe under most conditions of use."

Regulators say the new labels could avert dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries annually. Violations of the rule carry substantial fines.

What They Want

In the letter to OSHA, NACD president Eric R. Byer notes that the rule makes an exception for distributors to continue shipping products labeled by manufacturers after the June 1 deadline.

EricByer JenniferGibson

NACD president Eric R. Byer says factors beyond the chemical distributors' control are impeding their ability to meet the June 1 deadline. Jennifer Gibson, VP of regulatory affairs, says the rule has caused "panic and chaos" among members.

However, he adds: “[M]ore than 75% of NACD chemical distributor members are prevented from continuing to ship stockpiled products after June 1” because “HCS defines ‘chemical manufacturer’ broadly as ‘an employer with a workplace where chemical(s) are produced [manufactured, processed, formulated, blended, extracted, generated, emitted, or repackaged] for use or distribution.’”

By that definition, Byer contended, “the majority of chemical distributors are regulated as manufacturers, and therefore cannot ship any stock after June 1, 2015, without an updated label regardless of whether the label is created by that company or the upstream supplier.”

Byer also said that outside factors complicate the distributors' ability to relabel prepackaged stock. These "difficulties" include "safety concerns, supply chain disruptions, feasibility issues, contractual obligations, and economic impacts," Byer wrote.

A stay through Dec. 1 "would give distributors enough time to address these issues and come into compliance with the new rule."

'Panic and Chaos'

“The panic and chaos are already under way,” among distributors, NACD vice president Jennifer Gibson told ICIS, a chemical news outlet.


NACD represents distributors and supply-chain partners who formulate, blend, re-package, warehouse, transport, and market chemical products.

“OSHA has assured us that they have heard NACD’s concerns and are working to address them,” she said. But in the meantime, distributors are in limbo.

“The problem is that we do not know when the administration will issue a document in writing, and the 1 June deadline is approaching quickly,” Gibson told the news outlet.

Coatings and Chemicals

NACD has been a co-signatory with the American Coatings Association on letters regarding various regulatory issues in recent years, and NACD members include companies in the coatings supply chain.

The ACA declined to comment Tuesday (May 26) on the NACD letter, but ACA was one of nine trade associations that successfully petitioned OSHA last August for extended consideration on enforcement.


Tagged categories: American Coatings Association (ACA); Construction chemicals; Distributors; Hazard Communication Standard (HCS); Health and safety; OSHA

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (6/1/2015, 10:39 AM)

They have already had 3 years to implement. Should be no reason to panic.

Comment from John Fauth, (6/1/2015, 1:50 PM)

Tom, the issue is created by the governmental regulation itself. Raw material suppliers are not required to implement GHS formatting on SDS and labels until June 1st. And formulators who rely upon those SDS/labels have the same deadline. It's an obvious flaw in the regulation that should have been foreseen and corrected at the outset.

Comment from Sarah Geary, (6/2/2015, 8:45 AM)

I took the issue as being labels in distribution channels. If labels don't need to be updated until June 1st (past deadline) and nothing will be accepted for shipping from distribution points without new labels, this could create a real supply chain issue as warehouses may have items in stock that do not meet the new label requirements. It should never have slid this close to the deadline, I agree, but it should have had a better laid out schedule. This whole thing has been a huge pain in the brain.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (6/4/2015, 8:50 AM)

John, I definitely see your point. As a counter, those raw material suppliers weren't required to wait until June 1st. To properly serve their customers, they could have rolled out SDS and compliant labels long ago.

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