The Essence of Hazard Communication

The essence of hazard communication is knowledge and understanding. We use thousands of chemical products throughout our lives, at home and at work, but most of us would not be able to distinguish safe products from hazardous ones without information and training.

As children, we learned to recognize that symbols like Mr. Yuk mean we should NOT eat or drink things from under the kitchen sink.

Later, we learned that the skull and crossbones on a product label mean that product is toxic or deadly, if not handled properly. poison-pictogram

OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires employers to train their employees to recognize chemical hazards using the information provided on product labels and in safety data sheets and to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves.


Hazard communication in the workplace

An effective hazard communication program ensures that workers who may be exposed to hazardous chemicals' know about the chemical's hazards and understand how to protect themselves from those hazards.

Product labels and safety data sheets (SDS), formerly known as material safety data sheets (MSDS), are the main tools for developing a hazard communication program. They identify the hazardous properties of chemicals that may pose a health or physical hazard and provide guidance for appropriate protective measures.

HCS and the GHS

In 2012, OSHA revised the HCS to be consistent with the United Nations' Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of classification and labeling of chemicals.

The GHS is an international approach to hazard communication that provides specific criteria for classification of chemical hazards and a standardized approach to label elements and safety data sheets.

The United States is both a major importer and exporter of chemicals, American workers often see labels and safety data sheets required by other countries. As countries around the world adopt the GHS, chemicals will have consistent information, helping to ensure appropriate handling and safe use of workplace chemicals.

Phase-in dates for the HCS requirements:

Effective Completion Date





Dec. 1, 2013

Train employees on the new label elements and safety data sheet (SDS) format.


Feb. 1, 2015

Agricultural employers

June 1, 2015

Compliance with all modified provisions of this final rule, except distributors have an additional six months to ship product, without GHS labels.

Chemical manufacturers, importers, distributors, and employers

Dec. 1, 2015

Must not ship containers without a GHS label.




June 1, 2016

Update alternative work- place labeling and hazard communication program as necessary, and provide

additional employee training for newly identified physical or health hazards.

All employers