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Are you ready for the Global Harmonized System (GHS)?

Are your stored chemicals labeled correctly? Find out what the new GHS system means to you.

It’s virtually impossible to avoid close encounters with hazardous chemicals in the manufacturing and environmental industries. Therefore, it is important to understand the risks associated with hazardous substances. The fact of the matter is it is part of the job, so it is imperative for organizations to employ a safety communication system in the workplace to avoid human exposure to harmful chemicals.  In less than a month, on December 1, 2013 the United States Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) will begin the mandatory transition from the Hazardous Communication Standard (HCS) to the Global Harmonized System (GHS) for labelling potentially hazardous chemicals. The purpose of the GHS is to create a standardized approach to communicating hazards associated with chemicals.

The existing HCS has provided an excellent framework for effectively labeling chemicals, but it is not in line with global communication standards. More products are manufactured and assembled around the world, facilitating a need for a global set of classification standards to protect the public’s health at large. The goals and purpose of the new system is the same as the HCS, but the Classification and Labeling of Chemicals will be directly aligned with the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) created by the United Nations (UN). The GHS provides one set of hazardous material classification standards that will ultimately be used to promote environmental awareness and protect human health worldwide.

The primary changes are associated with the new chemical label format and Safety Data Sheets (SDS), which will replace the existing Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) that specify chemical properties, there use and risks associated with the hazardous chemicals. Chemical manufacturers will incur the most costs, assigning personnel to draft the Safety Data Sheets and setting aside resources to create new labels. OSHA estimates that the new standard will help to prevent 43 deaths and 585 injuries and illnesses yearly. Moreover, OSHA anticipates savings of $475.2 million from productivity improvements alone. Effectively relaying this information to your employees will ensure the success of the new GHS system.

Training is Key

Employee training will prove valuable to transitioning to the new GHS standard. Ensure your employees understand how to use the new labeling system in the workplace and to learn to identify the following six mandatory elements on the new labels:

  • Product identifier
  • Signal words
  • Pictograms
  • Hazard Statements
  • Precautionary Statements
  • Name, address, and phone number of the manufacturer, distributor, or importer

Employees should have a general understanding of how the elements work together on the label, for example, how the pictograms identify various hazards, the types of environments that create multiple hazards for a chemical and how to choose the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) based on the precautionary statement. The goal the new labeling system is to show employees and emergency personnel how to quickly locate first aid information.

Finally, train your employees on the new SDS format, which includes 16 distinct sections to help employees identify specific information related to the hazardous chemical. Understanding what the sections contain will help employees find the applicable exposure limits, physical properties of the chemical and much more. Ensure your employees understand how the six mandatory elements of the labels correspond to sections in the SDS to further reinforce safety and emergency response actions.

Safety First

An effective hazardous communication system requires training, which should be the highlight of implementing this new standard. Emphasize your training efforts by posting pictograms and graphics around your facility. This new program facilitates a straightforward training program to train your employees with since it has created a standardized system for labeling and communicating safety information for hazardous chemicals. Essentially, you only have to train your employees on one labeling system and SDS format streamlining your training program. The GHS provides a simplified way to communicate chemical hazards to your employees and emergency responders that ultimately helps to reduce workplace injuries and help organizations measure their compliance standards.

If you would like to learn more about GHS and how to implement an effective training program, please contact Element.

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