OSHA's regulatory agenda has been published. It says the GHS final rule is expected in OSHA'a regulatory agenda has been published. GHS Final Rule expected in August 2011.  If you are looking for an overview of GHS, try this top ten Questions about GHS.

Hazard Communication

OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires chemical manufacturers and importers to evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import.  The rule also requires they prepare labels and material safety data sheets (MSDS) in an MSDS management system to convey any hazards and associated protective measures to downstream customers, a.k.a., users of the chemicals.

All employers with hazardous chemicals in their workplaces must have a hazard communication program, including:
  • labels on containers
  • material safety data sheets (MSDS)
  • training for employees
Within the United States (U.S.), there are other Federal agencies that also have requirements for classification and labeling of chemicals. These apply overall and at different stages of the life cycle.

Internationally, there are a number of countries that have developed similar laws that require information about chemicals to be prepared and transmitted to affected parties. These laws vary with regard to the scope of substances covered, definitions of hazards, the specificity of requirements (e.g., specification of a format for MSDSs), and the use of symbols and pictograms.

The inconsistencies between the various laws such as Green Chemistry in the U.S. and REACH legislation in Europe, for instance, are substantial enough that different labels and safety data sheets must often be used for the same product when it is marketed in different nations. The diverse and sometimes conflicting national and international requirements can create confusion among those who seek to use hazard information.

Companies like Jabil use software for tracking chemical data.  Others generate labels and SDSs by some kind of cobbled-together database program, like Access.

Labels and safety data sheets, annoyingly, can sometimes include symbols and hazard statements that are unfamiliar to readers or not well understood. Containers may be labeled with such a large volume of information that important statements are not easily recognized.

What is worker safety actually worth?  In April, OSHA increased penalties for compromised worker safety.  Many argue that the increase is too little, but it's significant and arguably a step in the direction of a better worker safety program.


The current hazardous communications burden

Development of multiple sets of labels and safety data sheets is a major compliance burden for chemical manufacturers, distributors, and transporters involved in international trade. Small businesses may have particular difficulty in coping with the complexities and costs involved. As a result of this situation, and in recognition of the extensive international trade in chemicals, there has been a long-standing effort to harmonize these requirements and develop a system that can be used around the world. In 2003, the United Nations adopted the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). Countries are now adopting the GHS into their national regulatory systems.

Agency: Department of Labor (DOL)
Priority: Economically Significant
Major: Yes
Unfunded Mandates: Private Sector
Legal Authority: 29 USC 655(b); 29 USC 657


Requirements:

These multiple sets of requirements for labels and safety data sheets have long presented compliance burdens for U.S. manufacturers, distributors, and transports involved in international trade.

The comprehensibility of hazard information and worker safety will be enhanced as the GHS will:
(1) Provide consistent information and definitions for hazardous chemicals;
(2) address stakeholder concerns regarding the need for a standardized format for material safety data sheets;
(3) increase understanding by using standardized pictograms and harmonized hazard statements.

The increase in comprehensibility and consistency will reduce confusion and thus improve worker safety and health. In addition, the adoption of the GHS would facilitate international trade in chemicals, reduce the burdens caused by having to comply with differing requirements for the same product, and allow companies that have not had the resources to deal with those burdens to be involved in international trade. This is particularly important for small producers who may be precluded currently from international trade because of the compliance resources required to address the extensive regulatory requirements for classification and labeling of chemicals.

Thus every producer is likely to experience some benefits from domestic harmonization, in addition to the benefits that will accrue to producers involved in international trade. Several nations, including the European Union, have adopted the GHS with an implementation schedule through 2015. U.S. manufacturers, employers, and employees will be at a disadvantage in the event that our system of hazard communication is not in compliance with the GHS.

Agency Contact:
Dorothy Dougherty
Director, Directorate of Standards and Guidance
Department of Labor
Occupational Safety and Health Administration