Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS):
On December 20, 2010, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released its Fall 2010 Unified Agenda. 75 Fed. Reg. 79604. The Agenda sets August 2011 as the date for publishing a final rule that will modify the current hazard communication standard (HCS) at 29 CFR 1910.1200 to incorporate elements of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). Readers will recall that GHS is a system the United Nations (UN) developed for standardizing and harmonizing the classification and labeling of chemicals to help ensure their safe use, transport and disposal. Publication of the final rule is the culmination of a five-year process that has left the United States behind many countries in its implementation of GHS.
The UN first published the GHS in 2003 in response to the diverse and sometimes inconsistent hazard classification and communication systems in use around the world. Governments, industry, and labor, working through the UN, hoped that a harmonized system would increase safety and reduce the regulatory burden associated with the global trade in chemicals. Under the GHS, labels would include signal words, pictograms, and hazard and precautionary statements and safety data sheets would have a standardized format.
When the GHS system was first adopted, the goal was implementation in each country by 2008. However, that has not happened. Some countries met the deadline while others did not. Japan required compliance in 2006, and New Zealand and Korea required at least partial compliance in 2008. The European Union’s GHS regulation entered into force in January 2009. (Information on other countries’ adoption is available here.)
Adoption in the US has been slower, possibly because several agencies are involved, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and the Department of Transportation (DOT). Each agency is evaluating its existing regulations and guidance, and making the necessary changes. OSHA’s adoption of GHS has been particularly slow. The Agency first published an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking in September 2006, 71 Fed. Reg. 53617, and then waited almost three years before proposing a rule, 74 FR 50279, and finally initiated several public hearings thereafter. Some question whether US industry, particularly smaller businesses, have been hurt by the delay since smaller companies sometimes cannot afford to comply with multiple countries’ hazard communication systems and therefore avoid significant international trade.
Multiple aspects of OSHA’s current HCS will be affected by the impending rule. According to OSHA’s website, the following major areas are subject to significant changes.
- Hazard classification: Specific criteria for classification of health and physical hazards, as well as classification of mixtures will be adopted.
- Labels: Chemical manufacturers and importers will be required to provide a label that includes a harmonized signal word, pictogram, and hazard statement for each hazard class and category. Precautionary statements must also be provided.
- Safety Data Sheets: A prescribed 16-section format will be required for all safety data sheets.
- Information and training: The GHS does not address training. However, the proposed rule will require workers to be trained on GHS within two years of the publication of the final rule to facilitate recognition and understanding of the new labels and safety data sheets.
Additional details about the proposed changes are available in the Federal Register notices cited above. For those interested in learning more, OSHA has published a lengthy comparison of the GHS and HCS, and a comprehensive discussion of the GHS also is avaialble on OSHA’s website.