GHS is finally here…almost!

May 8th, 2012

OSHA’s recently published the final rule to adopt the Global Harmonization System (GHS), whichaccording to them will not change the framework and scope of the current Hazard CommunicationStandard (HCS) but will help ensure improved consistency in the classification and labeling of allworkplace chemicals. GHS provides a single set of harmonized criteria for classifying chemicalsaccording to their health and physical hazards and specifies hazard communication elements for labelingand safety data sheets. Under GHS, labels would include signal words, pictograms, and hazard andprecautionary statements and safety data sheets would have standardized format. This system wasagreed on at an international level by governments, industry, and labor, and adopted by the UN in 2002with a goal of 2008 for implementation.

According to OSHA this change will affect over 40 million workers in about 5 million workplaces. Thechange to GHS was a long time in coming and necessary as the global chemical business is more than a$1.7 trillion per year enterprise. In the U.S., chemicals are more than a $450 billion business and exportsare greater than $80 billion per year. Existing laws and regulations are currently different enoughto require multiple labels for the same product both within the U.S. and in international trade andrequiring multiple safety data sheets for the same product in international trade. Several U.S. regulatoryagencies and various countries also have different requirements for hazard definitions as well as forinformation to be included on labels or material safety data sheets. GHS effectively establishes agreedhazard classification and communication provisions with explanatory information on how to apply thesystem worldwide.

It is important to remember that GHS itself is not a regulation or a standard. The GHS Document(referred to as “The Purple Book”) is simply a mechanism to meet the basic requirements of anyhazard communication system, which is to decide if the chemical product produced and/or supplied ishazardous and to prepare a label and/or Safety Data Sheet as appropriate. OSHA’s HCS will incorporatethe needed elements of GHS to make international trade and commerce easier.

Of course with change comes the need for training. Employers will need to have trained their employeesregarding the new label elements and safety data sheets format by December 1, 2013 with fullimplementation of GHS taking place December 1, 2015.

OSHA has published a side-by-side comparison of the current HCS with the new GHS elementsincorporated which can be found here. If you need more information or training contact Greg Lemke who would be happy to help you find the needed resources.