June marked the culmination of a decade-long effort to align OSHA's hazard communication standard (hazcom) with GHS, the UN's Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals.
However, companies covered by hazcom must not view the conclusion of the GHS deadlines as the end. Moving forward, OSHA will continue to not only enforce the current GHS modifications to its hazcom standard, but also has indicated its intent to review and potentially modify the rule in the future maintain alignment with updated versions of GHS.
Regardless of how successful you have been in implementing GHS changes at your facility, it is critical that you continue with these efforts, even as we pass the June 1 GHS final deadline. You are obligated to ensure employees remain well versed on hazcom and the GHS changes, and that they have access to the most up-to-date safety data sheet (SDS) documents available.
Here are three key steps your company should do now to safeguard your employees and remain in compliance with the GHS-aligned hazcom standard.
Step One: Track Down All Missing Documents
Moving forward, OSHA inspectors expect to see GHS-aligned SDSs and shipping labels in the facilities they visit. Many downstream chemical users experienced a delay in receiving this information from manufacturers during the official GHS transition period. If your inventory of MSDSs still is not fully transitioned to the newly GHS-formatted SDSs (as is the case for many companies), you should be prepared to share proof of your attempts to obtain the documents with an inspector, and be able to explain why you don't yet have the updated documents.
Chemical manufacturers and distributors are required to send a GHS-aligned SDS of a chemical with the first or the next shipment after an update to the SDS document occurs. If you've received a first or next chemical shipment on or after June 1, 2015 and it didn't include the new SDS, you should have requested it from the supplier. If the supplier didn't have one ready, you should be prepared to relay that information to OSHA. In other words, you'll want to be able to demonstrate to OSHA that this was not something you passively accepted.
OSHA has made it clear that it is your responsibility as the employer to ensure that your facilities have the most updated SDSs available to workers. Any attempts you made to obtain the documents should be recorded, including the date of the original shipment and exactly what was wrong with it (e.g., was missing an updated shipped label, was missing an updated SDS or both), along with records of any calls, emails and letters to the supplier showing your attempts to resolve the matter.
Step Two: Training, Training and More Training
Even though the GHS training deadline passed nearly three years ago, you still have an obligation and should continue to regularly train your employees on the GHS-aligned hazcom. The first GHS deadline in December 2013 focused on employee training that laid the groundwork for ensuing GHS deadlines, since workers needed to understand the new SDS and shipped-label formats in preparation for entry to the workplace. However, what we saw was that many employees had received inadequate hazcom training in the first place, or had been trained so long ago that they hadn't retained a basic understanding of the standard to be able to put the GHS modifications into context.
While OSHA doesn't require employee training to be performed at a specific interval, regular training – even annual training – is a best practice that will help ensure your employees better retain hazcom information. Other instances in which training must occur includes any time a new employee is hired, so that he or she adequately understands the hazards associated with the chemicals with which he/she will interact. Similarly, whenever a new chemical is introduced into your facility, any employees who might come into contact with that substance must be trained on its potential hazards.
You should view training as an ongoing obligation. Today there are EHS software solutions available that can help you deploy safety courses to a single employee or group of employees, at a frequency that makes sense to your business. These solutions not only help you track your training needs and streamline communication to employees about completion deadlines, but also provide a wide variety of on-demand safety courses to help you meet your unique compliance requirements.
Step Three: Update Your Hazcom Plan… And Check It Twice
Under hazcom, if you have hazardous chemicals in your workplace you are required to prepare and implement a written hazard communication plan to help ensure that compliance with the standard is done in a systematic way, and that all elements are coordinated. While GHS doesn't address any specific changes to these plans, GHS-impacted elements such as labeling, safety data sheets, chemical inventory and training must be updated with GHS-aligned information. If an OSHA inspector shows up at your facility, one of the first things he or she will ask for is to see your written hazard communication plan. You will be out of compliance if it doesn't include any information reflecting the new state of hazcom and OSHA's adoption of GHS.
A new and noteworthy change came last year in a directive OSHA released to provide inspectors with guidance on the enforcement of HazCom post-GHS adoption. It included instructions concerning how chemical hazards are communicated on multi-employer worksites, stating that in these situations, each employer with hazardous chemicals must include details in their plan of how they will provide the other employers with on-site access to SDSs.
While this doesn't mean that one employer must physically give the other employer the SDSs, it does mean that they are required to inform the other employers of where the documents are maintained.
Again, a good EHS software system that helps you access, manage and deploy your SDSs electronically can drastically streamline the sharing of these documents both internally with employees, as well as externally to various vendors at multiple worksites. Such electronic chemical management solutions can also help you better track GHS-aligned SDSs to ensure you are sharing the most up-to-date documents with your employees.
The New Normal Is Change
While the final GHS deadline has come and gone, it's important that you're prepared for additional changes. The United Nations updates GHS every two years; OSHA adopted most of revision 3, which was the most current version at available at the time it started the regulatory update process for the hazcom Standard. The UN released revision 6 last year, and revision 7 should be released in 2017. OSHA already has indicated its intent to review and most likely align with future revisions of the GHS.
A good industry best practice is to designate a GHS transition leader. Such a person would have a familiarity with GHS and your site-specific GHS transition process, and would be able to employ their knowledge and experience to drive the implementation of any future GHS changes resulting from OSHA's adoption of a newer edition of the global system.
The primary goal of GHS is to create a more harmonized system for defining and communicating chemical hazards to help streamline workplace safety as well as training programs. Over time, training employees on hazcom will become easier with more consistent information on SDSs and labels. Until then, it's important to keep in mind that GHS is a critical first step we must all take toward the ultimate goal of making workplaces safer for every employee.
Glenn Trout is president and CEO of VelocityEHS, a cloud EHS software company dedicated to helping its customers reach their EHS and sustainability goals. The company's MSDSonline chemical management products help companies better understand their chemical risks, simplify compliance requirements and safeguard employees.
Visit http://www.EHS.com or call 888-362-2007 for more information.