Chemical Reaction: How GHS Impacts Workplace Safety

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration OSHA HazCom violations are ranked among the 10 most frequently cited workplace violations. Violations of the HazCom standard include deficiencies in the written hazard communication program; employee information and training; developing and maintaining safety data sheets; and labeling of containers. These violations can result in expensive fines, but worse yet can result in employee injuries and/or fatalities. In an effort to enhance worker protection and improve the handling and safe use of chemicals, OSHA recently adopted the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). This update is intended to provide a common and coherent approach to classifying chemicals and communicating hazard information on labels and safety data sheets internationally. It is also intended to improve the quality and consistency of hazard information in the workplace and likewise reduce trade barriers for American businesses that regularly handle, store, and use hazardous chemicals.

Baseline Definition

As a starting point, what does being GHS compliant mean? It simply means that companies that have chemicals anywhere in their supply chain must be compliant with the guidance set forth according to their country’s adoption of GHS guidelines. GHS aims to globally harmonize chemical safety information to drive continuous improvement of the working environment and reduce risks which may lead to an incident or injury. GHS compliance does not ensure safety under all circumstances, but strives toward improving knowledge of chemical hazards and encourages the elimination or substitution of hazardous chemicals, especially carcinogens, mutagens and reproductive toxins, with less hazardous alternatives.

Change is Constant

While achieving GHS compliance does mean that certain standards have been met, there is no guarantee that a site will be compliant now and forever. Revisions to the UN GHS Purple Book every two years will continue to drive updates to agency regulations at varying intervals going forward. Also, the chemicals that a facility uses or produces along with available chemical information will change over time and require reassessment of SDS and labels.  It can be challenging for organizations to keep up with the constant change, especially if there are large numbers of chemicals on site. To manage the change and potential vulnerabilities, implementation of management and reporting solutions, along with chemical approval policies and technology are highly recommended.

GHS Adoption Around the World

GHS has been implemented around the world starting with early adopters in Europe, Japan and New Zealand. Depending on the time of adoption, countries have implemented different versions of GHS spanning from the original version to version 5. The United Nations is expected to release version 6 of GHS in 2015.

After years of research, committee meetings, and public hearings, the United States began its transition to GHS in 2012 which became effective in June of this year. The United States adopted GHS and is implementing under its Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) 2012, CFR 1910.1200.

In February, Canada announced it will be incorporating GHS by modifying WHMIS (1998), which is based on the requirements contained in the Hazardous Products Regulations (HPR) and Hazardous Products Act (HPA) (2014) to WHMIS 2015. Both Canada and the United States have adopted the third edition of GHS.

GHS compliance presents an enormous challenge to industry in creating compliant SDSs and labels for worldwide distribution. Each country has adopted different revisions and even endpoints from each revisions of the United Nation’s “Purple Book,” which were the basis of their GHS implementation. Therefore, it is difficult to reuse GHS-compliant SDSs between countries. Understanding how GHS has been adopted and implemented in a specific jurisdiction by each country or region will help ensure organizations meet mandatory SDS and label requirements.

The United States Adoption of GHS

Under the new Hazard Communication Standard, a safety data sheet (SDS), previously known as a material safety data sheet (MSDS), must contain the new GHS classifications for health and physical hazards.  Additionally, HazCom 2012 requires the use of GHS-compliant labels, which must include mandated standardized information that allows users to quickly identify potential health and physical hazards that may result from exposure.  The new information is presented as Hazard and Precautionary statements along with standardized pictograms.

On July 20, 2015, OSHA published the “Inspection Procedures for the Hazard Communication Standard” CPL 02-02-079. The 124-page directive provides guidance on all areas of hazard communication including safety data sheets, labels and training.

Key Points of the Inspection Procedures for Hazard Communication Standard include:

SDS Creation – The manufacturer or importer must make a good faith effort to update their SDS documents to comply with HCS 2012 even when they do not receive the information required from their upstream suppliers. Manufacturers and importers must be able to provide documentation that they attempted to gain classification information and SDSs from upstream suppliers, looked to alternative sources for chemical hazard information and attempted to classify data themselves.

SDS Maintenance – A 16-section GHS compliant SDS must be distributed with the initial shipment of the material as well as the first shipment after an SDS has been updated. Employers must maintain SDSs for each of the hazardous chemicals they receive.

Written HCS Program – A written Hazard Communication program is required. An OSHA inspector will review to determine if requirements are being met. These include the designation of person(s) responsible for labeling on shipment containers, workplace labeling, obtaining and maintaining SDSs, and conducting training. In addition, OSHA requires a chemical inventory to be included in the written program. The inventory must include all chemicals present including stored chemicals or those no longer in use. The inventory must include a product identifier for each chemical that corresponds to the SDS or label. Named party on an SDS must also be the same named party on the label. If an employer is maintaining an SDS for a particular chemical but uses it from a different manufacturer, they are not in compliance.

Labeling – Manufacturers and importers must comply with HCS labeling requirements as of June 1, 2015. Distributors will have until December 1, 2015, to comply with the labeling requirements unless they are relabeling the materials. If the distributor relabels or replaces the manufacturer or importer name with their own, the distributor must comply with requirements as of June 1, 2015.


Don’t Fly Solo

Inevitably, chemical inventories change whether used for maintenance or as a raw material in the production of an end product.  Lack of proper chemical data management can lead to a vulnerable and unsafe environment for your workforce. Far from being complicit, the internal environmental, health and safety (EHS) resources responsible for hazard communications are often stretched thin.

So what’s the solution? Increasingly, managing chemical data through technology-based solutions has become attractive and necessary to save both time and money while providing additional expertise. Organizations can benefit by centralizing their chemical information into one database that is accessible to their workforce, no matter where they are located.  Smart and proactive organizations are realizing that a data-driven approach to becoming GHS compliant is the best way to protect their workforce. And a safe workforce is definitely a good thing.