Veterinarians to navigate new rules for hazardous substances

OSHA alters labels, paperwork to mirror global standards

February 7, 2013 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

Veterinarians soon must change how they label and log everything from pharmaceuticals to disinfectants in response to new rules for hazardous substances laid out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  

By the year’s end, all employers must alert staff that labeling and classification changes are on the horizon. Employers have until June 1, 2016, to fully comply with the new regulations, according to OSHA's timeline for implementing the changes.

Regulators revised OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard last spring, adopting the United Nations’ protocols for classifying, labeling and handling hazardous materials. The goal is to reduce confusion about chemical hazards in the workplace by implementing globally recognizable and universal standards. 

Key aspects of the Hazard Communication Standard:

  • Businesses must have a written plan directing employees how to use chemicals safely.
  • As part of that plan, businesses must maintain a list of products defined as hazardous.
  • A library of safety data sheets must be maintained for all hazardous chemicals on the list.
  • All containers of hazardous chemicals must be labeled with proper warnings.
  • Employees must be trained to know what the labeled warnings mean, the dangers of hazardous chemicals and safety measures.

The standard's revisions replace material safety data sheets (MSDS), commonly used in veterinary practices, with safety data sheets. The safety data sheets will have a 16-section format similar to the current American National Standards Institute format that’s familiar to U.S. employers. However, the sections have been reorganized to be consistent with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals.

New labels for all chemicals made in the United States and exported abroad also are being established. The labels will include specific hazard warning words and symbols, requiring veterinary practices to update the labels on their secondary containers (spray bottles or other containers used to store small quantities of chemicals) to reflect the new warnings and images. Chemical manufacturers and importers are required to determine the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import. Hazard classification under the updated standard provides specific criteria to address health and physical hazards as well as classification of chemical mixtures.

Philip Seibert, a consultant and expert in regulatory requirements for veterinary practices, says veterinarians have plenty of time to decipher the new hazardous-substance rules and develop practical ways to implement them.  

“Having said that, certainly you should start educating yourself on the changes and pay attention to the developments,” he said.  

Seibert gave that advice to veterinarians and veterinary staff members during a recent discussion hosted by the Veterinary Information Network, an online community for the profession.

Manufacturers are in the process of developing the new labels and updating their safety data sheets to reflect the new regulatory language requirements and pictograms, he said, adding that the new label rules are more complex than what’s currently required.  

“...The way the rules are written now will prohibit a type of label with all the warnings and pictograms displayed (the typical fill-in-the-blank format), and will require a unique and specific label for each and every product,” Seibert said.  

As for new safety data sheets, he said: “We're just going to have to wait until each manufacturer updates their MSDSs in the new format. They have until June 2015 to do that, so we're just going to have to update our MSDS libraries as they become available.”


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