The new Globally Harmonized System (GHS) is upon us. OSHA, with help from the U.N. and global community, has updated the HazCom Standard in an effort to standardize and simplify the communication of chemical hazards. Before this new system, a worker handling drums of flammable material from different manufacturers could notice an array of different warning labels. One manufacturer could have labeled the material as “Flammable”, while another could have labeled it as “Extremely Flammable” or even “Caution Flammable Vapors”. The material is all the same, but now there is confusion as to the level of the hazard present. It is for this reason why the GHS is here.
The GHS provides a common and coherent standard for the identification and classification of chemical hazards, along with specific criteria for material labels, which will make information easier to understand and apply. After the GHS is fully implemented, it would make it easier and less expensive for employers to get into compliance. It would also eliminate much of the conflicting standards and practices of different governing agencies (i.e. OSHA, DOT, EPA, etc.)
The GHS is an update to the current OSHA HazCom standard 29 CFR 1910.1200. This update includes specific criteria for presenting chemical information on all labels, including updated pictograms, signal words, precautionary statements, etc. Also, included in this update is a set format for all Safety Data Sheet (SDS’s), formerly known as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS’s). The format for SDS’s comprises 16 sections. Some of the sections incorporated are Hazard Identification, accidental Release Measures, Exposure Control, etc. The new format is very similar to the old format, for those of you who are used to reading the old MSDS style.
While the GHS seems as though it is going to cost employers too much time and money to get into compliance, especially when thinking of the time needed to re-train all employees on the HazCom standard, it will pay off in the long run. The new standard will allow more employees to understand the necessity and comprehension of potential chemical hazards that they may come into contact with. This standard will also give employees the knowledge of how to identify the proper exposure prevention, clean up, and emergency procedures involved in chemical handling. In the end, with workers able to understand better the risks and procedures for chemical handling accidents and injuries, and consequently worker compensation costs, will decrease.
The GHS outlines several dates during the transition period that employers need to meet. These dates include: