By:  Chris Hall

Recently, OSHA has proposed modifying the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), 29 CFR 1910.1200, to fall in line with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS).   OSHA’s HCS, also known as “Right to Know”, has long been recognized as being instrumental in educating employees in all aspects of chemical hazards for over 25 years.  With these newly proposed changes, OSHA intends to bring chemical labeling systems into the global system.  The HCS puts requirements on chemical manufacturers and importers to establish and provide information of the chemical hazards on the materials they produce or import.  This comes to the employer and employees in the form of chemical labels and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).

The new system that OSHA will adopt, GHS, is intended to make it easier for employers, employees, and chemical users to understand the chemicals and their associated risks.  This is done by adopting a standardized approach to hazard classification, labels and safety data, which is used and accepted worldwide.  The GHS is a system that was adopted by the UN in 2002.  It has been OSHA’s intention to bring the US market into this system for several years.  Now that the proposed standard has been introduced, it will only be a matter of time before all employers and employees will have to become familiar with it.

The Globally Harmonized System (GHS) is designed to use a standard format for chemical classification, MSDS’s, labels, signal words, and hazard statements.  This will create a consistent exchange of information between manufacturer’s, importers, and end users of products around the world.  Chemicals will be classified using standard criteria such as flammability, corrosiveness, and specific health hazards.  MSDS’s will be required to have a standard 16 part format, with designated sections for specific information.  Labels will be required to include a signal word, pictogram, and hazard statement based on the hazard class and category.  Many chemical manufacturers and importers have already adopted the new format for the world market.  Once the rule is finalized, OSHA will give employers two years to retrain their workforce to understand and use this new system.

The new standard will be much easier to everyone worldwide to follow as a single format for chemical products.  It is believed that the revised standard will save employers money, with better employee understanding of the hazards of products they use.  Reduced chemical exposure rates and ease of training has always been a goal of OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard, and the new proposed changes, brings their regulations one step closer to achieving it.