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Are You Ready for OSHA’s New HazCom Standard?

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The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) is widely acknowledged as one of the most significant regulatory changes to affect workplace health and safety practices in years. In the United States, more than 5 million workplaces and some 40 million workers will be affected by OSHA’s new Hazard Communication Standard (HCS 2012), which aligns with the GHS.

Alignment of HCS 2102 with the GHS provides a universal, clear-cut, standardized approach to hazard classification, labels and safety data sheets (SDS). This initiative promotes homogenous criteria for classifying chemicals based on health, physical and environmental hazards. Under the GHS, for example, labels are required to feature a harmonized signal word, pictogram, hazard and precautionary statements, product identifier and supplier identification. SDS also will be standardized, expediting worker access to information.

OSHA estimates the revised standard will help prevent 43 fatalities and 585 injuries and illnesses while saving an estimated $266 million a year by reducing safety and health risks. In addition, OSHA estimates annualized benefits of $585 million a year from cost reductions and productivity improvements attributable to HCS revisions.

Violations of the HCS are common enough to put them in the top 10 list of OSHA violations every year. With a more consistent standard, workers, employers and chemical users hopefully will improve compliance rates and benefit from greater reliability through simplified communications on chemical hazards and practices to follow for safe handling. As a global standard, GHS also is expected to have positive overall effects on human health and the environment.

Key implementation dates regarding GHS-HazCom alignment include:

  • Dec. 1: Requires employees to be trained on the new label elements and safety data sheet format.
  • June 1, 2015: Compliance with all modified provisions of the final rule.
  • Dec. 1, 2015: Requires distributors to only ship containers labeled by the chemical manufacturer or importer with updated GHS labels.
  • June 1, 2016: Update alternative workplace labeling and hazard communication programs as necessary and provide additional employee training for newly identified physical or health hazards.

Langdon Dement, AEP, GSP, is a safety and health specialist with the Workplace Health and Safety division of UL (Underwriters Laboratories), with a focus on industrial hygiene, patient handling ergonomics and job hazard analysis. His subject matter expertise aids in developing technical content for occupational health and safety training courses and software solutions. He holds an M.S. in occupational safety and health with an emphasis in industrial hygiene from Murray State University and a B.S. in biology from Harding University.

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