GHS Rule Being Published March 26

"This will improve chemical hazard control programs across the country," OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels said March 20 as he and Secretary Solis described the "right to understand" final rule.

OSHA will publish the final rule conforming its Hazard Communication Standard to the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) on March 26 and made it available March 20, with OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels and U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis telling reporters it ushers in a "right to understand" for millions of workers.

Dr. David Michaels, OSHA administratorThe HazCom Standard has been in place since 1983 and introduced the concept of workers' right to know about chemical risks through Material Safety Data Sheets, labels, and training. But the standard gave chemical manufacturers too much flexibility on how to present the hazard information, resulting in data sheets that were difficult to read or understand and also inconsistent, Michaels said. "This changes all that. And as Secretary Solis said, this moves it from the right to know to the right to understand," he added.

The announcement is also good news for companies that help safety personnel comply with the HazCom Standard. "It's time to get serious about providing employees with information and training that they can understand and utilize to work more safely with hazardous chemicals," said Tom Jacques, director of sales and marketing at MAXCOM/GHS, which has been classifying chemicals according to the current GHS standard since 1997. "We are compliance ready now for the adoption of GHS; hundreds of our clients have been enjoying the benefits of GHS for well over a year."

The 858-page final rule was years in the making. Key provisions in it include:

  • A specific hazard category for combustible dust, which is not in the HazCom Standard. Michaels said this does not change how OSHA has addressed combustible dust hazards for 25 years; still, it is significant that combustible dust will now be a hazard category in the HCS.
  • ACGIH's non-mandatory Threshold Limit Values will be required to be referenced on safety data sheets (SDSs) just as the HCS currently requires them to be referenced on MSDSs. "We elected to include them [TLVs] because many OSHA PELs are quite out of date, and it's important to get the information out to employers so workers can protect themselves," Michaels said.
  • The effective date is Dec. 1, 2013, for employees to be trained on new GHS-compliant labels. Manufacturers and importers of chemicals as of June 1, 2015, must comply with the final rule, although some distributors can still ship products complying with the current HCS until Dec. 1, 2015, Michaels said. Full implementation is reached in 2016.
  • The proposed "unclassified hazards" category is included in the final rule, but it instead will be called "hazards not otherwise classified."

Michaels said the agency hopes to complete other significant rulemakings this year. Asked which ones, he mentioned an electrical power transmission standard that is in process.

U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda SolisSolis said the GHS final rule is momentous for workers, especially low-wage and low-literacy workers. "So many workers will now have a better understanding of their work environment," she said.

"This is a very exiting day for OSHA," Michaels added. "We've been working on the standard for a very long time. It really is a win-win for all of these groups [workers, employers, and manufacturers]."

AIHA's president, Elizabeth Pullen, CIH, issued a statement March 20 congratulating OSHA for completing the long-awaited rule that will conform the HCS to the internationally recognized GHS format that is being implemented in many countries around the world. "The new safety data sheets not only greatly improve the quality of MSDSs by establishing a harmonized structure and meaningful recommendations of content but will improve the protection provided to workers, employers, and chemical users," Pullen said.

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