Control Banding and the Future of the HazCom Standard

Approved June 2005

Problem Statement:

ASSE members and other safety, health and environmental (SH+E) professionals acknowledge that, since the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Hazard Communication Standard (HazCom) (29 CFR 1910.1200)) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) HazCom Standard (30 CFR Part 47) were implemented, workplace hazardous material exposures have declined. However, they report growing concern that these HazCom Standards are falling increasingly behind in recognizing the state of the art in reducing chemical incidents and employee exposure illness. “More than 32 million workers are exposed to 650,000 hazardous chemical products in more than 3 million American workplaces. Moreover, each year emergency responders are seriously injured or killed because of deficient information about chemicals on site when they are addressing situations such as fires, explosions or transportation disasters.” 1 One method, "Control Banding," provides for improved worker safety when handling or using chemicals by focusing on control strategies. It is increasingly being used by safety, health and environmental (SH+E) professionals as the preferred method to provide employees with the necessary tools to avoid incidents of exposure. This Position Paper addresses the question of whether federal occupational safety and health policy should incorporate Control Banding into hazard communication guidelines.


Chemical exposure resulting in injury or illness is possible when recognized safety engineering controls are not implemented or fail. Exposure may result from direct contact or facility contamination from inadvertent release of chemical products, process failure, or lack of employee/employer knowledge on potential hazards of chemicals. Failure to implement appropriate engineering controls may result in increased work area concentrations of toxic chemicals as well as flammable and combustible materials that could increase the probability of illness, fires and/or explosions. SH+E professionals are concerned that a significant contributing factor to exposures is the possible failure of the employer to appropriately implement or understand requirements of the Hazard Communication (HazCom) Standard.1, 2

The data in Table 1, excerpted from the OSHA website and from MSHA data quantifying violations of the HazCom Standard citations, indicates that the lack of hazard communication compliance is a broad-based problem crossing industry boundaries. Beyond paperwork citations, the data indirectly indicates that implementation of appropriate engineering controls in the design state would minimize the potential for employee exposure to chemicals.



Number of Citations

Number of Inspections

Penalty ($)

  Agriculture 82 45 23660
  Oil/Gas (OSHA) 45 22 6410
  Construction 1459 757 166433
  Manufacturing 3381 1786 994043
  Transportation, Communications 438 226 102305
  Wholesale Trade 361 174 66406
  Retail Trade 370 178 72611
  Finance, Insurance 64 29 17170
  Services 1101 531 352213
  Public Admin 50 30 0
  Mining (MSHA) 1437 N/A 109733
  Totals 8788 3778 1910984

Table 1. – HazCom Citations By Industry Segment Sept. 03/Oct. 04

Various factors contribute to the high number of HazCom citations: 3

  • Lack of a common chemical assessment strategy to provide hazard and risk information integrated with process controls;
  • Lack of a common standardized format among sixteen sections of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for the Classification and Labeling of Chemicals Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), or, as they are now being termed, Safety Data Sheets (SDSs);
  • Lack of a common and understandable terminology in hazard statements for communicating risk such as the European Union's requirement of "R-Phrases," or "Risk Phrases," – consisting of the letter R followed by a number – that are on every label and safety data sheet for hazardous chemicals;
  • Lack of broadly accepted symbols, or pictograms, to communicate risk or required protective gear;
  • Lack of standardized “signal” words for communicating hazard and risk;
  • A requirement to have knowledgeable people available for assessment of hazards, especially in small- and medium-sized companies;
  • Acceptance of MSDSs without checking or understanding the evaluation of hazard information prior to use the chemicals;
  • Employers' failure to embrace the requirements of HazCom; and
  • Lack of common "S-Phrases," or "Safety Phrases," for hazardous substances.  The European Union requires that S-phrases appear on each label and safety data sheet for hazardous chemicals.  They consist of the letter S followed by a number.

The lack of a coherent approach to HazCom leads to other problems.  For example, refresher training methodologies may be inconsistent, and testing – when employed – is seldom validated.  Significantly, the HazCom Standard does not address the unique potential hazards associated with processes in which multiple materials are used.  This wide variety of difficulties points to the need for a coherent approach to defining and classifying hazards, communicating a common approach to labeling and authoring MSDSs, and adoption of appropriate engineering controls.

Hazard Communication vs. Control Banding:

The HazCom Standard and Control Banding methods of protecting workers depend on many of the same data inputs.  Both systems, in different ways, rely on MSDSs, exposure limits, hazard assessment and toxicological review.  Most importantly, both require professional assessment and analysis.  Specifically, both approaches require knowledge of:

  • Physical characteristics of the material (e.g. boiling point);
  • Chemical properties (e.g. reactivity);
  • Health hazards (R-Phrases);
  • Appropriate controls and protective actions (ventilation, containment and personal protection equipment [PPE]); and
  • Special control or toxicological reviews for specific materials such as reactives.

The HazCom Standard also requires:

  • A workplace inventory of hazardous material;
  • A written program covering the use, handling and storage of materials;
  • Identification information in the form of labels or process sheets for containers;
  • Employee information concerning hazards and exposures in the form of MSDSs and employee access to that information;
  • Training of employees in the interpretation and use of MSDSs, safe use of materials, assessment, and selection and use of PPE; and
  • Adherence to employer-prescribed precautions of use and process instructions.

The primary difference between the HazCom Standard and Control Banding is the methodology utilized to assure a safe workplace and reduce exposures to a minimum safe level.  The OSHA and MSHA HazCom Standards focus on one material at a time, working within the permissible exposure level (PEL) and communicating hazards using labels, MSDS’s, and formal documented training programs.  Furthermore, an assumption is made that the employer and employee understand the chemical information that the work environment and process hazards are controlled; and that the assessment and need for personal protective equipment (PPE), information and training have been documented and understood. 

Rather than looking at chemicals as single entities, the Control Banding approach groups materials together into broad "bands" based on their physical and chemical characteristics, quantities used, the environment in which the material is used (e.g., temperature of use), and risk information.  Following the assessment, controls are developed based on these bands.  The key focus in Control Banding is on the process, task, material characteristic, control (ventilation), and quantity used.  Control Banding uses a generic risk assessment based on the Globally Harmonized System for the Classification and Labeling of Chemicals 3, which is still being developed.  Defined exposure conditions have been developed to lead the user to an appropriate selection of a control method. When the material is evaluated, the outcome is one of four recommended control strategies:

  1. Employ good industrial hygiene practice
  2. Use local exhaust ventilation
  3. Enclose the process
  4. Seek the advice of a specialist

The International Labor Organization (ILO) of the United Nations has been providing a “Tool Kit” that describes the method to select Control Bands for each process. The five Control Banding stages established by Pavan Baichoo 4 of the ILO involve determining the:

  1. Hazard classification;
  2. Scale of use
  3. Ability to become airborne
  4. Control approach
  5. Selecting the task-specific control guidance sheets.

The Tool Kit requires that R-phrases, the state of material (gas, vapor, liquid or solid), allowable exposure limits, ability to become airborne, quantities used, and operating temperatures be documented.

Another Control Banding approach in actual use in the United Kingdom and being tested elsewhere is called "Control of Substances Hazardous to Health," or "COSHH-Essentials," which was developed by the United Kingdom's Health and Safety Executive and Health and Safety Commission (HSE).5  This is an on-line method that requires basic material information, quantities, and physical characteristics of the materials.  This data is entered into a form on their web site for each step in the process, along with the number of exposures during the shift (or expected frequency of exposure), the quantity per batch, and the standard R-phrase. Once that information is entered, a set of Control Sheets is presented for printing that summarizes the analysis, exposure and controls.

Developing a Position:

In developing a position on this issue, ASSE is faced with several alternatives:

  • Urge and maintain adherence to the current HazCom Standard;
  • Urge adoption of Control Banding to replace the HazCom Standard; or
  • Urge amendments of the HazCom Standard by integrating the GHS system of using control banding to focus on minimizing exposure.

This question was addressed in March 2004 in a hearing called by Senator Michael Enzi’s, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Employment, Safety, and Training hearings on “Hazard Communication in the 21st Century Workplace.”6   In testimony to the Subcommittee, Dr. Jon Hanson, Director of Safety for the Wyoming Medical Center, cited specific examples of chemical spills that were mishandled because the MSDS available was inefficient.From these situations, Dr. Hanson presented several conclusions relative to needed MSDS changes:

  • Chemicals need to be arranged in quick categories according to their potential hazards, which is a control banding principal;
  • Employees need to be trained according to these categories, which Dr. Hanson felt would be more efficient than current hazard training;
  • Language and formatting of the MSDS needs to be simplified, including being written to a sixth-grade comprehension level; and
  • MSDSs should incorporate symbols for easier comprehension.

These are all measures included in the goals of GHS.  Focusing on only the most pertinent information in the simplest language would reduce the length of an MSDS to only one page per chemical.  Dr. Hanson stated that nothing short of a complete reformatting of the MSDS template will be sufficient.  Simplification is the key, an idea that is the goal of both Control Banding and GHS.  Dr. Hanson's position was that these concepts should also be used in the federal regulations in order to assist with compliance.

ASSE agrees. From ASSE’s review of the ILO Tool Kit and the HSE/COSHH-Essentials process, as well as the various discussions about the issue, the Society believes OSHA and MSHA must begin a process of updating the HazCom Standard to incorporate elements of both Control Banding and the expected changes that will be brought about by GHS.  Work specifically should begin on a standardized MSDS and chemical hazard analysis process that can be made part of the HazCom Standard.  ASSE supports the GHS and urges OSHA and MSHA to incorporate work on developing labels that include

  • Symbols/pictograms;
  • Signal words;
  • Hazard statements
  • Product identifier/ingredient disclosure; and
  • Precautionary information.

It is suggested that, as OSHA and MSHA proceed, work should be initiated to revise the HazCom Standard to incorporate the model of Control Banding. One key element currently excluded in the Control Banding models is the issue of physical hazards such as flammability. The agencies should investigate and propose a model to incorporate this information.

In summary, both HazCom and Control Banding need common information, standardization of phrases, signal words, and process monitoring methods to be effective. Without a common base, neither program, whether alone or integrated, can succeed in the United States. These improvements will help OSHA and MSHA continue providing standards that help employers reduce worker injuries and illness resulting from exposure to hazardous materials.

ASSE's Position:

Establish an ASSE Task Force of interested ASSE members under the direction of the Industrial Hygiene Practice Specialty to develop a revised HazCom Standard that incorporates appropriate elements of both Control Banding and GHS and take necessary action through Governmental Affairs to promote adoption by OSHA and MSHA.

The Future:

The key for the future success of both the HazCom Standard and Control Banding will be the completion of GHS work on the standard sixteen-part MSDS, common R-Phrases, common S-Phrases, common signal words, and a common methodology of assessment and classification of chemical hazards. Without GHS, neither the HazCom Standard nor the Control Banding programs can succeed because employers will be faced with the continuing issue of non-standardization. This will be especially true in situations where a product is used globally and the information is in a non-familiar format, or where there are country-specific systems.


  1. Kendrick, S.  President, ASSE, “ASSE Comments on Draft OSHA Guidance Documents Concerning Hazard Communication Standard,” OSHA Docket Office Docket No. H022J, May 17, 2004.
  2. OSHA Website, Frequently Cited OSHA Standards by SIC Code, Sep 2003/Oct 2004.
  3. Silk, J. OSHA, “System (GHS) of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals – Development of a Worldwide System for Hazard Communication,” 2nd International Conference on Control Banding, Cincinnati, March 2, 2004.
  4. Baichoo, P. Safework, “ILO Chemical Control Tool Kit”, Geneva, Switzerland, , November 03, 2004.
  5. HSE – Web Site – e-COSHH or COSHH Essentials. The COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) available at
  6. Hanson, J. MD Testimony to U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Employment, Safety, and Training, Hearing on “Hazard Communication in the 21st Century Workplace.” March 25, 2004.

ASSE Position Statement on Control Banding and the Future of the HazCom Standard

Approved 6/9/05 by ASSE Board of Directors

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