In the News

Chamber of Commerce Urges OMB to Drop Unclassified Hazards from GHS Proposal, BNA

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Reproduced with permission from Occupational Safety & Health Reporter, 41 OSHR 1007 (Nov. 24, 2011).  Copyright 2011 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033)

A proposal to harmonize the U.S. workplace hazard communication system with international standards should not create a new category of "unclassified hazards" as way of implementing new federal standards, U.S. Chamber of Commerce representatives said in a meeting with Office of Management and Budget and Labor Department officials.

The Chamber sought the meeting to express its concerns about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's proposal to align its hazard communication rule with the United Nations' Globally Harmonized System for Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).

OSHA sent the rule to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Oct. 25. It would change the agency's criteria for classifying physical and health hazards, adopt standardized labeling requirements, and require a standardized order of information on safety data sheets with the goal of aligning the agency's hazard communication standard (29 C.F.R. 1910 Subpart Z) with the U.N. system (41 OSHR 912, 10/27/11).

Two Views on Cost Savings

The Labor Department has touted the rulemaking as a "signature burden-reducing retrospective review project" that will result in "substantial savings" for business, lower operating costs for users, and reductions in worker training expenses. Those savings will total between $585 million to $798.4 million per year for employers, according to the department.

However, the chamber dismissed those savings as "insignificant" compared with the costs of other OSHA proposed rulemakings, such as those for injury and illness prevention programs and silica.

The group also remains concerned that the final rule will contain a category for "unclassified hazards," which was not included in the United Nation's third revision to GHS. The proposed OSHA standard includes 10 health hazard categories for chemicals and 16 physical hazard categories.

Unclassified hazards would include substances that may pose risks to workers based on scientific evidence identified during the employer's classification process, but that do not meet the criteria for any of the physical or health hazard categories. The proposal cited combustible dust as an example of an unclassified hazard.

Deadlines Also an Issue

"We said we're not here to tell you not to do this," Marc Freedman, executive director of labor law policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told BNA Nov. 18. "But you shouldn't do it the way you proposed."

Jonathan Snare, an attorney with Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP representing the Chamber, added that the group urged OSHA to push back deadlines within the proposal for conducting training within two years and revising safety data sheets within three years and switch them so training is not required to be completed before safety data sheets are updated.

"That makes sense because otherwise you're basically training people on old material," he said.

OIRA Administrator Cass Sunstein, Jordan Barab, deputy assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, and Dorothy Dougherty, director of OSHA's directorate of standards and guidance, all attended the meeting with the Chamber representatives, Snare added.