U.S. Lags Behind Global HazCom Standard

HazCom GHS

OSHA’s HAZARD COMMUNICATION STANDARD (HCS) is intended to ensure hazards in all chemicals are classified, and that information concerning these hazards is communicated to employers and employees through container labeling, safety data sheets (SDSs) and employee training. Initially planned in 2014, OSHA has pushed back its slated Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for updates to HCS until December.

OSHA and other federal agencies regularly participate in development with the United Nations (U.N.) Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. The GHS is intended to provide a uniform set of chemical labels and standard practices for creating safety data sheets in international trade.

HCS was last updated in 2012 to coincide with the GHS’s third edition. However, the GHS is a living document, meaning it is continually modified, and is now in its seventh edition. As a result, changes that have been made by the U.N. in each subsequent GHS version are not addressed in OSHA’s standard.

The GHS’s fourth edition included the creation of new hazard categories for chemically unstable gases and nonflammable aerosols. The fifth edition established a new testing method for oxidizing solids and a new codification system for hazard pictograms. The sixth edition provided new hazard classes for desensitized explosives, created a hazard category for pyrophoric gases and required additional information to be included in SDSs. The seventh and most recent iteration of the GHS contained modified criteria for categorization of certain flammable gases. It also clarified some precautionary statements and provided additional guidance on SDSs for bulk shipping cargo.

OSHA has not identified which components of GHS are under consideration for inclusion in the agency’s impending notice. However, since the last update to the HCS, OSHA has written a number of directives, letters of interpretation and memos for clarification purposes. These topics will likely be items up for revision on the new standard. Some of these documents addressed combustible dusts, the labeling of small packages, aerosol classification, SDSs’ concentration ranges and the use of hazard symbols.

In June, OSHA held a public meeting with the U.N. Subcommittee of Experts on the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. According to OSHA’s meeting announcement, “[The agency] plans to consider the comments and information gathered at this public meeting when developing U.S. Government positions.”

Whatever modifications are made to HCS will result in new compliance requirements for businesses that manufacture, import or distribute hazardous chemicals. It will also likely affect employers with workers that are exposed to these hazards. Potential changes will create new training requisites for many businesses, as well.

Although some employers may try to stay ahead of the curve and match their HazCom programs with the GHS’s seventh edition, this practice could be problematic. According to inspection procedures for the HCS provided by OSHA in 2015, companies can be slapped with violations if their use of a more recent version of the GHS does not align with current OSHA requirements. Therefore, until OSHA does issue and finalize a notice for the HCS, it is best for employers to focus on compliance with the current standard.

Unfortunately, the HCS is the most commonly cited standard for general industry and the second most commonly cited standard in all other industries. Some frequent violations include failure to develop and implement a compliant HazCom program, failure to provide adequate employee training, failure to maintain copies of SDSs and failure to properly label chemicals.

In an effort to avoid citations, employers should assess their HazCom programs to ensure compliance. This assessment should make sure chemical hazard classifications are done properly, inventory-specific SDSs library is available and up-to-date, employees have access to inventory of SDSs, manufacturer shipped labels and employer workplace labels are compliant, employees have been properly trained, a site-specific written HazCom program is accessible to employees and current chemical inventory list is accurate.

Employers’ HazCom training should meet the requirements of the HCS at a minimum. It should include information from the written program, labeling systems, SDSs and operations. After completing a HazCom training program, employees should be able to identify the requirements of the HCS, the purpose of a written HazCom program and the procedures needed to acquire a copy of the written program.

This information should help you to understand how to ensure HCS compliance and has provided insight as to some potential updates that might be included in a new standard.

About the Author

Tom O'Connor

Safety Columnist

Tom O'Connor is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Reach him at toconnor@intecweb.com.


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