Chemical manufacturers that distribute products in small containers continue to seek clarification from OSHA on how to comply with label requirements. To that end, OSHA has provided answers via a letter of interpretation

In this letter, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) explains that it sells approximately 33,000 hazardous chemicals in small containers, ranging in size from 5 milliliter (mL) vials to 50 mL bottles. NIST states that the significant challenge is to provide all the required information (e.g. (1) a product identifier; (2) signal word; (3) hazard statement(s); (4) pictogram(s); (5) precautionary statement(s); and (6) the name, address, and telephone number of the responsible party) on these containers.

In several questions, NIST asked OSHA about using a substitute numbering system to link each individual vial or bottle to an accompanying sheet containing all the label elements, or using DOT small quantity exemption, or optionally applying an EU CLP container exception and finally if these options didn’t comply, just labeling the outer box containing the smaller vials. OSHA answered that none of these options allow for full compliance with the Hazard Communication Standard.

The full OSHA response included the following:

Ampoules/bottles of the hazardous chemical must be labeled with the hazard information required by HCS 2012. While paragraph 1910.1200(c) defines a label as “an appropriate group of written, printed or graphic information elements concerning a hazardous chemical that is affixed to, printed on, or attached to the immediate container of a hazardous chemical, or to the outside packaging,” this is merely the definition of what a label is; it was not intended to allow for the labeling of the outside packaging only. OSHA’s position is that labels must be attached to a hazardous chemical’s immediate container. Therefore, a manufacturer, importer, or distributor may not attach an HCS 2012 label only to the outside packaging of a shipped hazardous chemical.

OSHA understands your concern that HCS 2012 labels contain more information, which may be difficult to include on small shipped containers. As such, labeling can be done with pull-out labels, fold back labels, tags or other methods. While pull-out labels, fold back labels, tags or other methods to attach the label to the shipped container may cost more than traditional glued on labels, an increase in cost is an unacceptable reason to avoid use of these labeling methods.

As a practical accommodation, where the manufacturer can show that it is not feasible to use pull-out labels, fold back labels, or tags, containing the full HCS 2012 required information, the shipped small container (i.e., the actual container holding the hazardous chemical), at a minimum, must contain the following:

  • Product identifier
  • Appropriate pictograms
  • Manufacturer’s name and phone number
  • Signal word
  • A statement indicating the full label information for the chemical is provided on the outside package.

Additionally, the outside packaging, at a minimum, must comply with the following:

  • All the applicable label elements, as defined in 29 CFR 1910.1200(f)(1).
  • The outside package must be clearly marked to ensure the complete label elements are visible and it must clearly inform users that the small container must be stored in the outer container bearing the complete label. The complete label must be maintained on the outer package (e.g., not torn, defaced, destroyed).
  • The manufacturer must ensure that any alternative labeling used does not conflict with any other standards. As such, the outside packaging must not present a hazard while the material is being stored.
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