When dealing with hazardous constituents, hazard communication is a must to protect workers, property, and the general public. Both the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have standards for how to communicate the dangers of goods and products they consider “hazardous.”
The DOT requires markings and labels, or in some cases placards, for packages holding “hazardous materials” before and during transportation. OSHA requires hazard labels for containers holding “hazardous chemicals” in the workplace. While both agencies have harmonized their regulations with international standards, there are some cases in which the two systems don’t match.
Often, a given material may meet the definition of both a DOT hazardous material and an OSHA hazardous chemical. In the instances where the standards intersect, a shipped chemical may need both DOT and OSHA hazard communication. This often leads to confusion about how these communications should be displayed on the shipment.
Below are three examples of the differences and similarities between DOT labels and OSHA pictograms.
DOT “Packages” vs. OSHA “Containers”
When dealing with DOT or OSHA regulations, hazard communication comes down to some key definitions.
Under the DOT Hazardous Material Regulations, hazard markings and labels are required on all “packages” being shipped. The DOT defines a package as the minimum assembly that meets DOT requirements for shipping the hazardous material. [49 CFR 171.8] In the case of combination packagings, there may be additional enclosures inside the package to further protect the hazardous material (e.g., bottles separated within a box).
Under OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), hazard labels are required on all shipped “containers.” Containers are defined as “any bag, barrel, bottle, box, can, cylinder, drum, reaction vessel, storage tank, or the like that contains a hazardous chemical.” [29 CFR 1910.1200(c)] Since OSHA is concerned with employees in the workplace, the Agency is concerned with the containers that an employee would encounter in a normal workday.
OSHA “Containers” Inside a DOT “Package”
Now that we have defined what DOT deems a package and what OSHA deems a container, we can discuss situations where the DOT and OSHA hazard communication requirements may overlap.
As a first example, let us examine a hazardous material/chemical contained in glass bottles that are then packed in a fiberboard box. Where would the DOT and OSHA communications go?
For DOT, the markings and labels would go onto the fiberboard box, because that is the final form that would be safe for shipment and would meet all DOT requirements. The glass bottles are too weak to be shipped without a protective barrier, so they are not DOT packages and would not get the DOT communication.
Under OSHA, the GHS labels would go onto the glass bottles rather than the box, because that is the container that an employee would work with. The employee needs the information immediately in case of an accident, and the bottle may be the most readily available container.
What If the “Container” and “Package” Are the Same?
Next, let’s use a 55-gallon steel drum to hold our hazardous material/chemical. In this example, where does the hazard communication appear?
For DOT, the package is the steel drum, since that is considered a safe form in which it can be shipped. Thus, markings and labels would go onto the drum.
Under OSHA, the container is also the steel drum since that is the form in which an employee would foreseeably come in contact with the chemical. Thus, in this instance, the GHS labels would also go onto the drum.
While DOT and OSHA hazard communication requirements do overlap, recognizing the intent of each standard will help employees differentiate between the two sets of rules and better protect themselves from hazardous chemicals. Preparing your team to understand these diverse hazard communication rules is critical to avoid confusion and delays as US shippers transition to the revised OSHA HazCom Standard in 2014 and ’15.
Keep your hazmat shipments moving as you update your facility procedures to comply with OSHA’s revised GHS Hazard Communication Standard. The live, instructor-led GHS Compliance for Hazmat Shippers Webinar is designed to provide a clear view of how new GHS hazard labels and classification criteria will impact your domestic and international hazmat shipments.