That’s a mouthful of letters.
OSHA’s proposed major change to the Hazard Communication Standard, incorporating the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS), cleared a significant hurdle, review by the Office of Management and Budget, on February 21. The next step: review and revise the Final Rule, then publish it in the Federal Register.
Is this a big deal? For chemical product manufacturers, yes. Their material safety data sheets and labels will need major revisions. In fact, we’ll get rid of MSDSs, replacing them with SDSs, Safety Data Sheets.
For product users, not that big an impact. Data sheets will need to be updated, but manufacturers will have about five years to do so. Most update their MSDSs at least that often, anyway. Employees will need some training on understanding the new SDSs and labels, but that really shouldn’t be difficult.
Why the change? We live in a global economy. Chemical product manufacturers now have to write separate data sheets for the US, for Canada, for Europe…. GHS, adopted by the UN, standardizes data sheets and labels, so should make preparing those documents much easier for the multinational corporations and anyone wanting to trade globally.
From the user standpoint, there are benefits. How chemicals are classified should become more standardized – so similar products will have similar labels and similar warnings.
GHS uses pictograms to quickly show the hazard. Those are easy to learn – many are similar to those in use now for DOT placards. There are a few new ones:
Chronic hazards (carcinogens, respiratory sensitizers) has a pictogram that looks like an exploding torso. Environmental pollutants show a dead fish. And an exclamation point will be used for those hazards that are of concern, but not deadly, such as irritants and skin sensitizers.
Timeline for the final rule: the regulatory agenda says it will be published in February 2012. That seems unlikely, as there’s less than a week left to February. But I’d expect to see it pretty soon.