Understanding OSHA’s HAZCOM and Globally Harmonized System (GHS) Standards
What is the Globally Harmonized System (GHS)?
The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) is a worldwide initiative to promote standard criteria for classifying chemicals according to their hazards, and communicating hazard information on easily identifiable labels and accurate Safety Data Sheets (SDS). The GHS is supposed to make the international workforce safer by creating a shared understanding of chemical hazards and safe handling directions.
The GHS itself is not a regulation. The GHS Document (referred to as “The Purple Book”) establishes hazard classification and communication criteria with explanatory information on how to apply the system. The GHS offers a new way to meet the basic requirements of any Hazard Communication System (HCS), helping to decide if supplied or produced chemical products are hazardous, and, if so, determining the appropriate information for labels or Safety Data Sheets.
Regulatory authorities in countries adopting the GHS will implement the outline criteria through their own regulatory process and procedures, rather than simply incorporating the text of the GHS into their national requirements. The GHS Document provides countries with the regulatory building blocks to develop or modify existing national programs that address classification of hazards and transmittal of information about those hazards and related protective measures. This helps to ensure the safe use of chemicals as they move through the product life cycle from country to country, from production through disposal.
What are the Benefits of GHS?
In the US, implementation of the GHS will harmonize, or simplify, hazard definitions and labeling information for U.S. regulatory agencies (CPSC, DOT, EPA, OSHA, etc.). If the GHS is implemented globally, consistent information will be communicated on labels and Safety Data Sheets. The basic goal of hazard communication is to ensure that employers, employees, and the public are provided with adequate, practical, and reliable information on the hazards of chemicals, so that they can take effective preventive and protective measure for their health and safety.
It is anticipated that application of the GHS will:
- Benefit countries, international organizations, and chemical producers.
- Enhance the protection of human health and the environment.
- Facilitate international chemical trade.
- Reduce redundant and costly testing and evaluation of multiple classification systems.
- Increase awareness of hazards, resulting in safer use of chemicals in the workplace and in the home.
Why is Training Mandatory?
The GHS states the importance of training all target audiences to recognize and interpret labeling and/or SDS information, and to take appropriate action in response to chemical hazards.
Training requirements should be appropriate for the nature of the work or exposure. Key stakeholders include workers, emergency responders, and also those responsible for developing labels and SDSs. To a certain extent, the training needs of additional audiences have to be addressed. These should include training for persons involved in chemical transportation, and strategies required for educating consumers in interpreting label information on products that they use.
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) is requiring that employees are trained on the new label elements, like pictograms/icons and signal words, and the SDS format, before full agreement with the final rule, in 2015.
While many countries are in various stages of implementing the GHS, OSHA believes that it’s possible American workplaces may begin to receive labels and SDSs that are consistent with the GHS shortly after publication of the ruling—now. It is important that when employees begin to see the new labels and SDSs in their workplaces, they will be familiar with them, understand how to use them, and can access the information effectively.
The three major areas of change are in hazard classification, labels, and safety data sheets.
- Hazard classification: The definitions of hazard have been changed to provide specific criteria for classification of health and physical hazards, as well as classification of mixtures. These specific criteria will make sure that evaluations of hazardous effects are consistent across manufacturers, and that labels and safety data sheets are more accurate as a result. That’s better data.
- Labels: Chemical manufacturers and importers will be required to provide a label that includes a harmonized signal word, pictogram/icon, and hazard statement for each hazard class and category. Precautionary statements must also be provided.
- Safety Data Sheets: Formerly called “Material Safety Data Sheets” or “MSDS”, the information will now have a specified 16-section format. The GHS does not include harmonized training provisions, but recognizes that training is essential to an effective hazard communication approach. The revised Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires that workers be retrained by June 1, 2016 to facilitate recognition and understanding of the new labels and safety data sheets.