PHMSA, OSHA issue joint guidance on using GHS labels in transport

Sept. 21, 2016

The Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released on September 16 a joint guidance memorandum about the interaction between the placarding and labeling requirements under the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMRs) and OSHA’s implementation of the Globally Harmonized System for Hazard Communication (GHS). 

This joint guidance resulted from National Tank Truck Carriers and other industry associations’ engagement with PHMSA, according to Boyd Stephenson, NTTC senior vice-president. This memorandum confirms that OSHA GHS rules do not apply in transportation, even when DOT placards/labels are not required. 

Stephenson offered answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the GHS program and its impact on tank truck carriers.

Are GHS labels required in transportation?

No. To quote the guidance, “During transportation, DOT’s HMR governs hazard communication labeling requirements. OSHA’s [GHS] labeling is not required on shipping containers in transport, even when DOT’s HMR does not require labeling in transportation.”

What if DOT labels/placards aren’t required?  Are GHS labels required in transport then?

Still, no. DOT’s regulation of transportation works both ways.  When DOT says a hazard must be communicated, it must be through a label or placard. If DOT says no hazard communication is necessary, DOT has similarly said that there is no hazard to communicate. DOT’s role preempts OSHA.

My shipper wants to use GHS labels on the shipment anyway. Is this okay?

Yes, a container in transportation can be labeled according to GHS, but it never has to be labeled with GHS pictograms. The HMRs allow this, but stipulate that the GHS labeling must be correct. But, the container likely must be labeled before and after transport. Many shippers will prefer to label the tank before it is transported. These containers are acceptable in commerce so long as they are correctly labeled.

What if the GHS labels are incorrect?

Incorrect GHS labels are violations of the HMRs attributable to the carrier and the shipper. The HMRs generally ban any placarding or labeling that’s not required and that could be confused with DOT placards or labels. GHS labels are one of the few exceptions to this rule that PHMSA has allowed. However, the GHS labels must be correct. Incorrect labels or use of pictograms different from or not required under the HMR are considered confusing and conflicting and can be charged as violations of the HMRs.

I don’t want to deal with optional GHS labels, how can I help my shippers be compliant and still keep the GHS labels off of my tanks?

Ask your shipper to send attachable GHS labels as part of the bill of lading/shipping paper documentation package. GHS labels must be applied after the product is unloaded. PHMSA and OSHA both explicitly state that GHS labels included as part of the shipping paper documentation can be turned over to the consignee at delivery and attached after unloading.