By June 1, 2016, OSHA expects all employers to be fully compliant with GHS adoption.

The Ripple Effect of Missed GHS Deadlines

How employers are experiencing the impact of the missed deadlines and what they can do to get on the right path toward full GHS compliance.

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The June 1, 2015, GHS deadline has come and gone. It was OSHA's intention that by now, chemical manufacturers and many distributors and importers would have reclassified hazardous chemicals according to the GHS-aligned requirements and updated all safety data sheets (SDS) and labels to reflect these changes. Unfortunately, many chemical manufacturers took a wait-and-see approach to updates, which has now caught up to them and caused problems through the chemical supply chain.

The best way to think of the effect that missed GHS deadlines have on the supply chain is to imagine throwing a stone in a pond and watching the ripple. All of the deadlines are connected in a chain reaction that directly impacts how and when each change will be made downstream.

So what is the fallout of chemical manufacturers missing the June 2015 deadline, and how can employers effectively navigate around these missed deadlines? Before we get to that, it is important to review what is required for each of the deadlines first.

Overview of Passed GHS Deadlines
By now, all employees covered by the HazCom Standard should be trained on GHS and able to read and recognize the new SDS format and labels. The deadline for this was Dec. 1, 2013. However, employers should understand that this training requirement is an ongoing obligation. Workers must be able to comprehend the new GHS SDSs and labels and to also understand the ways in which these items work together as hazard information flows from one to the other.

One reason this first deadline was so important was that it laid the groundwork for the GHS deadlines that follow. If your employees haven't been trained on GHS, it is imperative that that training occur immediately.

The deadline that just passed—again, it was June 1, 2015—required chemical manufacturers to produce safety data sheets and labels using the GHS format. Under the new format, SDS documents now have a strict ordering of 16 sections. In the updated HazCom Standard, OSHA specifically outlines what information needs to be included on the documents and the order in which it should appear. Additionally, under GHS, the hazard classification of chemicals now goes into more detail and includes the division of hazards into sub-categories based upon their severity.

Similarly, labels on shipped containers also underwent a dramatic format change and now require the inclusion of six standard elements. Manufacturers and other entities that ship hazardous chemicals from one facility to another must now include the appropriate product identifier, signal word, pictogram(s), hazardous statement(s), precautionary statement(s), and supplier information on the label of the immediate container being shipped.

Looming GHS Deadlines
The next deadline is Dec. 1, 2015. This is the date by which distributors can no longer send out hazardous chemicals labeled under the old (pre-GHS) HazCom Standard. OSHA granted certain distributors a six-month extension beyond the June labeling deadline to divest themselves of product already labeled under the pre-GHS HazCom Standard and to accommodate those suppliers with container shipments that may have been received too close to the June 2015 deadline to have the proper GHS labeling.

Unfortunately, with the number of chemical manufacturers who missed the June 2015 deadline, it will be difficult for many distributors to be fully compliant with the December 2015 deadline, as well. Regrettably, these delays will compound down the supply chain and only make it harder for employers to meet the fourth and final deadline on June 1, 2016. By this date, OSHA expects all employers to be fully compliant with GHS adoption, completing any necessary updates to hazard communication programs, including workplace labeling procedures. Additionally, all affected employees must be trained on any new hazards identified during the manufacturers', distributors', or importers' chemical reclassification process.

A 'Good Faith' Effort
OSHA revised the Hazard Communication Standard to align with GHS and laid out the compliance deadlines back in March 2012. Yet despite these clearly stated deadlines, many chemical manufacturers still missed important GHS deadlines, causing unpredictability for employers when it comes to safety data sheets and labels.

Earlier this year, OSHA anticipated GHS deadline issues and took steps to alleviate pressure felt by some chemical manufactures that rely on upstream suppliers for chemical classifications. A Feb. 9, 2015, memorandum from Thomas Galassi, OSHA's director of enforcement programs, stated that OSHA inspectors should take into account overall efforts, attention, and action(s) taken to comply with GHS and the June 1 deadline. The memo is directed specifically at chemical blenders who missed the deadline due to upstream supplier delays.

With this document, OSHA stated that it might not cite manufacturers and distributors who fail to meet this deadline if they've shown "reasonable diligence" and made a "good faith" effort to comply. To make this determination, OSHA will review both oral and written communications between chemical manufacturers and their upstream suppliers of raw materials. OSHA also will factor in whether or not these efforts were made in a timely manner. To avoid a citation, non-compliant manufacturers and distributors will need to be able to tell an OSHA inspector when they do expect to be GHS compliant, with a specific timeline.

It's important to remember though, that "reasonable diligence" and "good faith" protection won't last forever. In a presentation before the Society for Chemical Hazard Communication (SCHC) spring meeting in March, representatives from OSHA clarified that chemical blenders and distributors seeking relief from the June 1, 2015, classification deadline because they have not received data from their upstream vendors might be out of luck if they haven't already made documented attempts to obtain that information.

GHS is happening whether companies like it or not, and all efforts to adopt it must be made and should be completed sooner than later. That more manufacturers missed the June 2015 deadline directly affects the December 2015 distributor deadline, which will only impede the efforts of downstream users even more.

The New Normal for Employers
So now the important question is, "What is the fallout of manufacturers missing the June 1, 2015 deadline for employers?" Unfortunately the impact of upstream suppliers missing their deadlines is that, for employers, the end is uncertain. It's difficult to predict when all chemicals in the United States will have fully GHS-formatted safety data sheets and labels. Until that time, employers will need to stay vigilant and understand that hazard communication unpredictability is the new normal, for at least a while longer.

In the meantime, here are a few steps employers can take to keep their companies on the right path toward full GHS compliance and adoption:

  • Perform a chemical inventory: Take inventory of the chemicals you currently have and verify that you have the most up to date SDSs for all of your hazardous chemicals. Even if these documents don't follow the new GHS format, having the most current information will make tracking the updates to your library much easier and alleviate risk to employees. There are a number of affordable electronic solutions that can help with managing safety data sheet updates. Many of today's electronic chemical management solutions not only automatically push updated safety data sheets to your account, but also allow you to filter by GHS and other criteria so you can get a quick snapshot of your GHS transition progress.
  • Train employees on GHS: Having employees trained on the new GHS formats must be a top priority because they are the first line of defense in recognizing GHS-compliant SDSs and labels as they arrive. It's also important to remember that while your facility is transitioning to GHS, your library may contain a mix of safety data sheets in the new and old formats and that you must continue to train employees on both document types. Luckily, there are number of great on-demand GHS training courses that can help round out a comprehensive training program.
  • Capture Safety Data Sheets: Make sure that all points of entry into your facility are on the watch for updated SDSs and labels and establish a process to catalog updated documents that arrive. While this might seem like a basic task, it is the only way to guarantee your company is capturing SDSs in the new GHS format. Remember, chemical manufacturers and distributors are only required to send an SDS with the first shipment or the first shipment after a significant change has been made or when requested by a downstream user. If you miss the updated SDS, the onus then shifts to you to secure the updated document.
  • Update your SDS library: As new safety data sheets arrive, make sure each document is saved in the SDS library for easy access. While cataloging these documents, employers also should identify any new information that requires updates to workplace labels and should communicate this information to employees. If new hazards are listed on the SDSs, employers should also update their hazard communication program to reduce any risks associated with those chemicals.
  • Train employees on new hazards: As part of a compliant hazard communication program, employers need to train employees on any newly discovered hazards listed on safety data sheets and labels to make them aware of additional dangers and procedures to follow if contact is made. Employees also should have a solid understanding of the new GHS pictograms and be able to explain what each means.
  • Talk to suppliers about GHS: The responsibility for communicating chemical hazards starts upstream with chemical manufacturers and ends with the downstream users. That said, as customers, downstream users can put a lot of pressure on upstream suppliers to get moving. OSHA's expectation is that employers will play an active role in ensuring their employees have the necessary information to perform their jobs safely. Going forward, employers receiving SDSs in non-GHS formats should be proactive in communicating with suppliers about their needs and expectations and reach out to their local OSHA offices should they have trouble securing the necessary SDSs and labels.

Ultimately, We All Gain
Now more than ever, it's essential for employers to put procedures in place to review, identify and categorize new SDSs and labels in the GHS format. We have a long way to go toward full GHS compliance and, while the road may be challenging, alignment with global hazardous chemical communication practices should, in the end, drive safer workplaces for employees and their communities.

This article originally appeared in the July 2015 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Glenn Trout is the president and CEO of VelocityEHS, a leading cloud EHS software company dedicated to helping its customers reach their EHS and sustainability goals faster through a simple and intuitive platform that is more affordable, faster to implement, and aims to provide the best user experience. For more information visit www.VelocityEHS.com or call 888-362-2007.

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