Haz. Chemical Labeling Changes

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 @ 02:03 PM gHale

Regulations to improve labels on hazardous chemicals and make them conform with international guidelines developed by the United Nations will now be the law.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimated these labels could prevent more than 40 deaths and about 500 workplace injuries and illnesses from exposure to hazardous chemicals each year. Each year, approximately 6,000 employees in the U.S. die from workplace injuries while another 50,000 die from illnesses caused by exposure to workplace hazards, according to OSHA.

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Labels will be easier to understand and less confusing, especially for low-literacy workers, said Assistant Labor Secretary David Michaels. About 43 million U.S. workers come in contact with hazardous materials on the job.

The process of developing the rules began during the Bush administration, and a proposal for the rules came out more than two years ago. The Obama administration is holding them out as a product of a presidential directive last year to streamline burdensome agency regulations and eliminate red tape.

OSHA officials said the latest rules would actually save companies more than $475 million annually in training costs and paperwork. Chemical manufacturers currently have to produce two sets of labels and records: One to satisfy U.S. standards and another to meet the U.N. guidelines.

“Not only will it save lives and limbs, but it will lead to increased efficiency on part of employers who produce and purchase chemicals,” Michaels said. “And it will level the playing field for employers to compete abroad.”

The rules will phase in over a transition period and companies will not have to comply with them fully until June 2016.

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