Beginning in April 2012, OSHA updated their Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) to align with the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of classifying and labeling chemicals.
By December 1, 2013, all employers were required to train their employees on the key elements of GHS Standards—including the new pictograms and safety data sheets.
By June 1, 2015, all chemical manufacturers must change over their labels and safety data sheets to the new format.
What Is the GHS?
In 1992, the United Nations recognized the growing number of hazardous chemicals available in the world. They decided to designate a worldwide system to standardize chemical labeling and classification. Until now, every country had its own system.
“There are probably 50 different hazard communication standard systems operating worldwide right now,” said Tom Smith, Director of Safety Consulting and Training for IBT Industrial Solutions. “The Globally Harmonized System will make this uniform over time, so that shipping chemicals globally will be easier and safer.”
In the U.S., OSHA is responsible for monitoring the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), which gives workers the right to know the hazards and identities of the chemicals they are exposed to in the workplace. First issued in 1983, the HCS requires employers to provide information about these hazards and protective measures to their workers.
“According to the HCS, the employer is absolutely responsible for telling employees about these hazards,” Smith said. “This is an OSHA standard that all employers are required to follow.”
The new labeling system required by GHS standards has more detailed communication about each chemical hazard. Also, the new “safety data sheets” will replace the old material safety data sheets, and use a new, standardized format—to make finding safety and emergency cleanup information easier.
Manufacturing companies will be required to ship the new safety data sheets the first time they deliver a new chemical to any customer worksite. Previously, they could issue documentation in any format they chose.
More: Check out OSHA’s GHS “Quick Take”
Risks of Non-Compliance
Failure to comply can result in citations by OSHA, fines—or even lawsuits.
“This will likely become a high-profile target for OSHA inspections in 2014,” Smith said, adding that the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) is routinely in the top 3 most frequently cited standards for OSHA, year after year. “Since nearly every company has hazardous chemicals onsite, it’s very easy to cite for training or documentation failures.”
If You Missed the Dec. 1 Deadline…
Companies that failed to meet the December 1, 2013 deadline can still get help—before an inspection or citation occurs. Smith’s team at IBT routinely assists customers with evaluating their need for an HCS program that meets OSHA’s requirements for the new Globally Harmonized Standard. They also offer training and safety programs that meet the requirement.
“100% of businesses in the U.S. need an HCS program, because we all have some form of hazardous chemical onsite, even if it’s just cleaning chemicals,” Smith said. “The problem is, many businesses don’t set one up until it’s too late.”