Now that OSHA has aligned the hazard communication (HazCom) standard with the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS), the clock has run out on the deadline to train your employees on the new GHS formatting. HazCom still will be HazCom, but with a whole new look.
For one thing, HazCom will feature new label elements, including the definitions for hazards, the classification of mixtures and the format for safety data sheets (SDS), which will replace material safety data sheets (MSDS). Labels on shipped containers now will require signal words, hazard pictograms, hazard statements, precautionary statements and the name, address and telephone number of the chemical manufacturer, importer or other responsible party.
Signal words alert users of the relative severity of a potential hazard. “Warning” indicates a less severe hazard; “Danger” alerts users to a more severe hazard. Pictograms identify the product the same way globally. Hazard statements describe the nature of the chemical, and precautionary statements describe the measures that should be taken to prevent adverse effects.
The deadline for covered employers to train employees on the GHS formatting passed on Dec. 1, 2013. But if you fear roving bands of OSHA inspectors banging on doors to identify GHS scofflaws, don’t hit the panic button. Just get started.
During my tenure as Virginia’s labor commissioner, my colleagues and I did our best to keep perspective. In the big picture, our goal was not so much to find an idealized picture of workplace perfection behind every door; that’s unrealistic. Instead, we tried to work with employers to identify, prevent and abate known hazards. And while safety is critical, we were not blind to other interests that compete for employers’ time and attention.
Making the task more difficult, many conscientious employers, especially small and midsize employers, lack a full-time or even a part-time safety and health director. Many of these employers may be completely unaware of the new directive.
At least in the foreseeable future, OSHA likely will identify GHS violations incidentally. Often, they will be discovered in the course of a regularly scheduled inspection or when responding to a reported incident or hazard. You should be prepared at any time to provide documentation demonstrating that all covered employees have completed the HazCom training.
What Should You Do?
First of all, breathe. And get the training for your co-workers. Avoid or reduce the sting of a citation by showing good faith.
How? One quick and relatively inexpensive way is to schedule a brief training with a safety or health consultant. Anna Jolly, the owner and managing director of Circle Safety and Health Consultants in Richmond, Va., said GHS training doesn’t have to be daunting.
“A lot of employers don’t understand that they are included if they use any chemicals, including gasoline for tools and equipment,” said Jolly. “Knowing you have to get it done is the most important step. If the employer has a hazard communication program already in place, we can get its employees up to speed within two hours. The training is important so that employees will understand the pictograms and warnings of the new system as chemical manufactures update their materials.”
You also can conduct your own training using videos and materials offered online, such as those provided by the National Safety Council. OSHA’s website includes helpful information such as QuickCards, its GHS fact sheet, its Hazard Communications page and its brief on GHS-compliant labels and pictograms.
Whether you use a piece of string on your finger (which I do NOT recommend) or an electronic calendar, go ahead and note the other GHS deadlines on the horizon:
• June 1, 2015 – New label requirements and SDS must be in place. Distributors must be in compliance if they are not passing along manufacturer labels.
• Dec. 1, 2015 – Distributors may ship products under the old system. All labels must be updated by this date.
• June 1, 2016 – Employers must update alternative workplace labeling and hazard communication programs as necessary, and provide additional employee training for newly identified physical or health hazards. The transition period is complete and all manufacturers, distributors, importers and employers must be in compliance with the final standard.
So if you missed the Dec. 1 GHS training deadline, don’t panic. Just schedule the training for your employees. Let your demonstration of good faith be the angel by your side.
As these deadlines come and go, remind yourself that workplace safety and health compliance isn’t a destination; it’s a process – for all of us. Keep that in mind and you’ll stay ahead of the curve.
Courtney Malveaux is an OSHA and regulatory attorney with ThompsonMcMullan PC in Richmond, Va. An experienced litigator, he served as Virginia’s labor commissioner through October 2013 and is the immediate past president of the National Association of Government Labor Officials. He can be reached at (804) 698-6242 or at [email protected].