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October 12, 2012
GHS-compliant chemical labels, safety data sheets, and training requirements are coming

This past spring, OSHA published its long-awaited Hazard Communication Final Rule. The rule aligns OSHA's hazard communication standard (found in 29 Code of Federal Regulations 1910.1200) with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) adopted by the United Nations in 2003.

The federal standard took effect on May 25, 2012. Chemical manufacturers, importers, and distributors have until June 1, 2015, to bring their chemical labeling and safety data sheets (SDSs, which replace material safety data sheets (MSDSs) under GHS) into compliance with the standard's requirements.

Because some countries have already implemented the GHS—and many chemical manufacturers, importers, and distributors were already gearing up to comply with the new standard—GHS-compliant labels and SDSs will soon begin arriving in your workplace.

Practice tip

The GHS affected hazardous chemical labeling, safety data sheets, and training; the other provisions of federal OSHA's hazcom standard, such as exemptions, were unaffected by the changes.

Background on GHS

Who needs to be trained? OSHA is requiring employers to train their employees in how to read the new SDSs and labels by December 1, 2013.

Why train workers in the new GHS requirements? The new labels and SDSs are supposed to be easier to understand, especially in multilingual workplaces. However, the terminology and format are different from OSHA's existing labels and MSDSs, and workers must understand what they'll be seeing.

Safety basics for GHS

The hazard communication standard has long been called the "right-to-know" standard—the idea being that you have a right to know which chemical hazards are present in your workplace and how to protect yourself from them. OSHA recently revised its hazard communication standard to align it with an international chemical hazard communication standard, the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, known as the "GHS," which was adopted by the United Nations.

In this article, we're going to explain the ways that hazardous chemical labels and material safety data sheets will change under the GHS.

How chemical labels will change. Under the current hazard communication standard, the label must include the identity of the chemical and appropriate hazard warnings, but many details are left up to the company creating the label.

Under the GHS, the hazard warnings on labels will be standardized. They will include:

  • Pictograms: Eight pictorial hazard warnings will indicate the type of hazard a chemical presents. An optional ninth pictogram will indicate whether the chemical poses an environmental hazard. You can view the GHS pictograms here.

  • Signal words: Signal words on the label will indicate how hazardous a chemical is. "Danger" will be used for the more severe hazards, while "Warning" will be used for less severe hazards.

  • Hazard statements: These brief statements will give more detail about a chemical's hazards. For example, a chemical that could kill you through skin contact will be labeled with the signal word "Danger" and the associated hazard statement "Fatal in contact with skin." A chemical that could cause skin irritation will be labeled with the signal word "Warning" and the associated hazard statement "Harmful in contact with skin."

  • Precautionary statements: These statements will tell you how to safely store, handle, and dispose of the chemical as well as how to respond to an exposure incident. Instructions may include statements such as "Wash thoroughly after handling."

How MSDSs will change. Under the current hazard communication standard, employers must keep a material safety data sheet (MSDS) on hand for each hazardous chemical in the workplace. The MSDS must contain certain information, but formats vary widely.

Under the GHS, detailed chemical hazard information must be provided in a standardized format called a safety data sheet, or SDS, which replaces the MSDS. The SDS will have 16 sections, each containing specific chemical hazard information, similar to the 16-section nonregulatory American National Standards Institute (ANSI) format. All required information will be in the same place on each SDS, making the information easier to find.

Conclusion

Chemical hazard information is vital to your safety. Under the new hazard communication standard, chemical hazard information will be easier for all workers to understand. Watch for GHS-compliant labels and SDSs—they're coming!

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