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Society urges GHS compliance

05.01.2012  |  Thinnes, Billy,  Hydrocarbon Processing Staff, Houston, TX

Keywords: [UN Global Harmonized System] [chemical labeling] [safety] [revisions] [bureaucracy] [hazard communication standard]

The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) has been preparing health, safety and environment (HSE) professionals for major compliance changes that are required by the United Nations’ (UN’s) Globally Harmonized System (GHS). GHS, a consistent way to globally communicate chemical hazard information, was adopted by the UN in 1992 and by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on March 20, 2012. The US Federal Register published the final rule on March 26, with the effective date coming 60 days after the date of publication. Companies that work with chemicals are expected to have trained their employees on how to read the new material safety data sheets (MSDS) and labels by June 1, 2013, and to have all employee training completed by June 1, 2016.

ASSE members recommend that companies and their employees become familiar with the new globalized product/chemical hazard identifier symbols (Fig. 3), which have been redesigned to include a red border. A new symbol has also been added to the group under the jurisdiction of GHS, which indicates that a chemical is an environmental hazard.

  Fig. 3.  Examples of the new
  globalized product/chemical
  hazard identifier symbols that
  are a part of the UN’s Globally
  Harmonized System.

Risks associated with exposure to chemicals are broad and can range from burning of the skin or eyes; damage to the body’s respiratory or neurological system; birth defects; or deadly diseases, including cancer.

In today’s world of global trade, it has become necessary to have a harmonized system for the classification and labeling of chemicals. Such systems will make it easier for employees around the world to understand the hazards of certain substances they come into contact with and to take the necessary precautions to stay safe on the job.

The revised GHS hazard communication standard (HCS) now focuses on an employee’s right to understand the hazards of materials they come into contact with while on the job.

Differences in chemical regulations, classifications and labeling of chemicals in various countries have led to problems in communicating the dangers of hazardous materials. In addition, compliance with multiple regulations can be costly and time consuming for corporations. These burdens can make it difficult for them to compete internationally.

“The GHS requires consistent communication in labeling,” explained ASSE member Glen Trout, president and CEO of Chicago-based MSDSonline.

Experts strongly urge those affected by GHS to begin implementation and employee training as soon as possible to ensure that they are not mired with compliance requirements at the last minute.

Companies are encouraged to begin a dialogue with their employees to ensure that they understand the changes. They should also talk to their chemical suppliers to find out their plans to transition to GHS.

OSHA estimates that once GHS is fully implemented, employers will save approximately $32.2 million as a result of higher efficiency in transporting products around the globe, as well as a decrease in workers’ compensation and lost work time due to chemical exposure. HP

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