Occupational Safety & Health:

OSHA Action Needed to Improve Compliance With Hazard Communication Standard

HRD-92-8: Published: Nov 26, 1991. Publicly Released: Nov 26, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on: (1) employer compliance with the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), which requires employers to identify workplace chemical hazards and communicate that information to their employees; (2) the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) efforts to inform small employers about HCS; and (3) the accuracy and clarity of required material safety data sheets (MSDS).

GAO found that: (1) according to OSHA safety and health inspection data for fiscal years 1989 and 1990, one-fourth of all the worksites reviewed did not comply with HCS, and small worksites had the highest noncompliance rate; (2) a GAO survey of the construction, manufacturing, and personal services industries found that 58 percent of small employers and 52 percent of all employers did not comply with key HCS requirements; (3) although OSHA conducts outreach activities that include information about HCS, small employers may be unaware of HCS because they have little contact with OSHA; (4) 29 percent of small employers reviewed were unaware of HCS, compared to 2 percent of large employers; (5) 57 percent of small employers stated that better distribution of printed HCS information would increase small employer awareness of HCS; (6) 55 percent of all employers that received MSDS stated that most MSDS were too technical for workers and managers to understand; (7) OSHA reviews MSDS after the chemical manufacturer or importer distributes them to employees, instead of focusing on the MSDS point of origin, which is the manufacturer's or importer's hazard evaluation process; and (8) since OSHA rarely reviews chemical manufacturers' or importers' hazard evaluations, many MSDS include inaccurate or incomplete information.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should direct OSHA to revise HCS to specify that developers of MSDS include on each sheet a brief description of employer responsibilities under the standard.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: OSHA established a work group under the National Advisory Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) to examine issues related to improving hazard communication. The recommendations in the NACOSH report do not include this GAO recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Labor should direct OSHA to revise HCS to address the inability of employers and employees to understand MSDS by clearly specifying the language and presentation of information to be used on them.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: OSHA established a work group under the National Advisory Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) to examine issues related to improving hazard communication. The recommendations in the NACOSH report do not include this GAO recommendation.

    Recommendation: Should OSHA implement its plans to establish a toll-free hot line for HCS, OSHA should require that this number be included on MSDS.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor: Occupational Safety and Health Administration

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: OSHA established a work group under the National Advisory Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) to examine issues related to improving hazard communication. The recommendations in the NACOSH report do not include this GAO recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the accuracy of MSDS, OSHA should develop a more effective strategy for inspecting the hazard evaluation processes of manufacturers and importers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor: Occupational Safety and Health Administration

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, OSHA's Salt Lake City laboratory initiated a program whereby it, by compliance officer request, would review any MSDSs of questionable reliability or accuracy to support the officers' enforcement of applicable standards. In past years, OSHA has referred to this as a pilot program because it believed that a more proactive, direct submission of MSDSs by manufacturers for review by OSHA would be necessary to fully respond to the GAO recommendation. However, funding required for such expansion has not been forthcoming, and OSHA officials now maintain that this service does not need to be expanded. OSHA officials said they believed the service provided by the Salt Lake laboratory responds to the intent of the GAO recommendation.

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