OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard

Aligning with the Globally Harmonized System (GHS)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published the original Hazard Communication Standard to provide an information system on hazardous chemicals that are used in the workplace.  The purpose was to give workers that are exposed to chemicals the “right to know”.  By aligning with the Globally Harmonized System (GHS), OSHA now states that workers have the “right to understand”.

According to OSHA, by aligning with GHS, there are great benefits. GHS is intended to help workers better understand the hazards associated with the chemicals to which they have exposures.  It is expected to help limited –literacy workers or workers with a language barrier.  Supposedly, due to better communication of the chemical hazards, over 500 injuries and illnesses in the workplace and 43 workplace fatalities will be prevented each year in the United States.  I think we can all agree this would make adapting the GHS worthwhile if this prediction turns out to be correct.

Reducing the trade barrier is also an OSHA claimed benefit of the hazard communication standard aligning with GHS.  I believe that the use of pictograms and a standard format for Safety Data Sheets (SDS) will help companies that have not yet expanded business into other countries. Chances are the U.S. companies that were conducting business in other parts of the world prior to the U.S. adapting GHS, have already adapted the GHS SDS and labeling system.  The transition to GHS compliance will be an easier transition for them.

I can understand the aforementioned benefits of adapting GHS.  The last OSHA claimed benefit that I would like to put out there is the cost savings of more than $475 million in productivity improvements, fewer data sheet and label updates and simpler hazard communication training.  I do not buy into this benefit just yet.  I work for a company that is not only a “user” of chemicals but a chemical manufacturer.  We formulate distinctive blends that are unique to our customer’s needs.  This being said, we must re-author all of our MSDSs so that they are compliant GHS SDSs.  We decided that we were going to get ahead of the curve and purchase an SDS authoring service that would make this task a bit easier for us.  We purchased that authoring system almost a year ago and are still plugging along with our mandated changes.  It’s a good thing we set out to be proactive!

As with any major change, the pain will soon pass.  And I do hope all of OSHA’s predictions come true.  Please forgive me when I say that I have some doubt.  However, I would like to give OSHA credit where it is due.  OSHA has a fantastic website that contains a wealth of information on complying with the new hazard communication standard.  I would advise all that is affected by GHS to consult with the following website:  www.osha.gov.  The website offers fact sheets, quick cards and many other documents to ease the transition.  Good luck and remember that we are all in this together!