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Implementing the GHS for Chemical Safety

The Globally Harmonized System of Classifying Chemicals (GHS) is a set of universal guidelines developed by the United Nations to ensure safe production, handling, transport, use and disposal of hazardous materials throughout many countries. It is not a regulation but a rather a best practice based on the health, physical and environmental effects of the chemical.

Sixty-five countries are in the process of adopting the GHS system. Each country can choose how to implement GHS and which parts they choose to implement. Many countries are choosing to implement in phases. Australia will be fully implemented by January 1, 2017, Canada by December 1, 2018, the EU on June 1, 2015, and the US is requiring product manufacturers to be compliant June 1, 2015 with distributors following on December 1,2015 and employers fully compliant by June 1, 2016.

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The GHS provides two communication elements: one is a safety data sheet (SDS). These had previously been referred to as material safety data sheets (MSDS). Under GHS, the SDS is written so that a worker with limited language skills can understand the information given. There are 16 standard sections on an SDS. Emergency information is on the front side with technical information on the back.

The other element is labeling, which is designed so that a worker will know if the chemical is hazardous and how hazardous based on six standard elements now on all labels. First, the label will contain a product identifier that is the same as the one listed on the SDS. Also listed will be supplier information. Signal words are now used in labeling: ‘Danger’ is used for the most dangerous hazards, and ‘Warning’ for less severe. An additional hazard statement must be on the label as well.

There are four types of precautionary statements: prevention, response, storage, and disposal. Finally, GHS is using nine pictograms to identify a chemical as hazardous. These have a red frame with black symbol.

While US employers are not required to have all SDSs updated by June 1, 2015, they must begin updating the SDS documents as new chemical shipments arrive and have a program for tracking these documents. Any new hazards that arise as part of this process must also be documented in the company’s hazard management system and communicated to the workforce. The final deadline for full compliance with all of these mandates is June 1, 2016.

As the GHS transition affects your workplace, it’s important to have a hazard communication program in place. Document the list of hazardous chemicals in your workplace and know which ones you have SDSs for. Provide SDSs to your employees. Ensure chemicals are properly labeled and employees have been trained on chemical safety.

If you are not already using a hazard management system, now is a good time to evaluate a solution. For a free trial, visit www.myosh.com
By Stacey Wagner

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