Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis and Assistant Secretary of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health, Dr. David Michael, held a press conference, March 20th, to announce a rule updating OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard.   The revised standard will align with the United Nation’s Global Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals to better protect workers from hazardous chemicals, as well as help American businesses compete in a global economy.  Secretary Solis stated that “exposure to hazardous chemicals is one of the most serious dangers facing American workers today.”  This revision of OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard will improve the quality, consistency and clarity of the information that workers receive, making it safer for workers to do their jobs and easier for employees to stay competitive in the global marketplace. 

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of chemicals (GHS) provides a single set of harmonized criteria for classifying chemicals according to their health and physical hazards and specifies hazard communication elements for labeling and safety data sheets.  These criteria and elements will help chemical manufacturers to determine if a chemical product produced and/or supplied is hazardous, and explains how to prepare an appropriate label and/or safety data sheet.  This harmonized standard will ensure that workers will have information that is easier to find and understand through the use of standardized formats and label elements: signal words, pictograms, hazard statements, and precautionary statements.  As one participant expressed during OSHA’s rulemaking process, this update will give workers the right to understand, as well as the right to know.  It will reduce confusion in the workplace, facilitating safety training and improving understanding of hazards, especially for low-wage and limited-literacy workers.  The Hazard Communication Standard, first issued in 1983, was designed to ensure that employers provide information about health hazards and physical hazards, giving workers the right to know the hazards and identities of the chemicals they are exposed to in the workplace. 

Employers must train workers on the new label elements and SDS format by December 1, 2013.  Chemical employers must comply with all modified provisions of the final rule by June 1, 2015; however, distribute under the old system until December 1, 2015.  By June 1, 2016, employers must update alternative programs as necessary, and provide additional worker training for new identified physical and health hazards. 

The GHS is not a regulation or a standard, but a set of recommendations that a competent authority such as OSHA can adopt.  The GHS is being implemented around the world in countries such as Australia, the EU, and China.  This document provides countries with the regulatory building blocks to develop or modify existing national programs that address classification of hazards and transmittal of information about those hazards and associated protective measures.  This helps to ensure the safe use of chemicals as they move through the product life cycle and around the world.  Benefits to workers and members of the public include consistent, simplified communications on chemical hazards, safe handling practices, greater awareness of hazards and overall safer use of chemicals.  Benefits to employers include safer work environments, improved relations with workers, increased efficiency, reduced costs of compliance, and expanded use of training programs on health and safety. 

For more information about the benefits of harmonization, visit OSHA’s Guide to the GHS.

Source: OSHA