Is Your OSHA Safety Training Program Ready For The New Hazard Communication Standard?

Do you know how OSHA’s new hazard communication standard, Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, will affect your company? The new system has been implemented in stages, beginning in December 2013, with the final stage coming online in June 2016. By June 1, 2016, all chemicals your company uses, stores, produces, or ships need to be labeled according to the new standard and you need to have updated Safety Data Sheets (SDS) on premise and available. All of your employees need to have updated OSHA safety training on the new system, including any recently identified health hazards or physical hazards.

What Is The Point Of This Globally Harmonized System?

The GHS system is intended to standardize the way hazardous materials are labeled, not just in the U.S., but also worldwide. It was developed by the United Nations, in hopes of getting member countries (and non-member countries, in time) to adopt a single set of standards to simplify international sale and transportation of chemical substances that may be hazardous. So far, more than 65 nations have adopted GHS practices. OSHA anticipates that adopting GHS standards will result in 600 fewer fatalities and injuries each year and result in significant cost savings after the initial changeover. Both health and safety and environmental impacts will be minimized with an improved OSHA process safety management program that incorporates GHS.

What Changes Are Involved?

  • Hazard Classification – The first change has already taken place, and that is in the classification of materials. Through a lengthy process of study, hazardous materials have been classified by health and environmental risks, and physical hazards. The new classification system is designed to be more understandable, and simple to use. It’s also intended to go beyond warning of dangers like explosion or combustion, and to make handlers aware of additional factors like health impact and environmental impact. Better for people, better for the environment.
  • Labeling – We’ve already mentioned the new labeling. You’ve probably seen it if you’ve ordered any new chemicals since June 2015. The new labels are required to include a signal word, like “Danger,” or “Warning”, a pictogram, and hazard and precaution statements for each hazard category and class. The new labels are designed to be readily understood, and to help produce, transport, use, and dispose of chemical substances in safer ways that do not harm humans or the environment. The precautionary statements and emergency directions are written out in a format that is clearer, and the hazard statement is now separate on the label, in a more noticeable position.
  • Safety Data Sheets – In the U.S., the new GHS-compliant Safety Data Sheets (SDS) will replace the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) we’ve used for decades. In part, this was done to take into account the practices currently in use in other nations, to make them internationally compatible. They’re also meant to be more understandable than the old MSDS were, so that employees can understand the potential hazards and risks of a given material, and hopefully, be more motivated to follow safety precautions. For example, one section of the new SDS specifies permissible exposure limits and what personal protective equipment should be used in handling the substance.

What Do I Need To Do?

That depends upon what you’ve already done. At this time, your company should have begun preparations and training for the final implementation deadline. If you are behind schedule, now is the best time to get caught up. There are some specific areas you should pay especially close attention to when evaluating your company’s readiness for this critical deadline.

  • Employee Preparation – Be sure your employees have completed all required OSHA safety training before the deadline. Also, make sure they know where to find the new SDS in your facilities, and that they understand that they have access to them at any time during business hours.
  • Supervisory Preparation – Are your managers and supervisors ready to answer questions and be extra vigilant during this transition? Be sure they are well versed in the new regulations well before the deadline, because ultimately, they will be the ones implementing the changes on your company’s behalf. These changes represent a significant shift in OSHA process safety management, and it’s critical that your supervisory staff understand that these are not simply new hoops to jump through; it’s a new way of approaching some foundational ideas.
  • Documentation – With the new standard your company should have the new SDS on hand. After June 1, 2016, you’ll need replacement labels, and you will need to have SDS available to your employees. If not, your company is at risk of getting a citation with fines. If you’re producing or shipping hazardous materials, you’re undoubtedly well along the way to completing this transition. If you’re an end user, though, you may be a little behind. Do yourself a favor, get this handled now. Ask your supplier’s rep for updated SDS, or check the manufacturer’s website for downloadable versions you can print in-house.
  • Facilities And Safety Equipment – Once your management staff members are up to speed on the new system, it’s time to think about how the changes will affect the way chemicals are stored in your facility and how employees handle and use them. Do you need to add ventilation or security measures? Do you need additional personal safety equipment? Taking action now will save you hassles and money later. Is your facility ready to meet the rigors of an updated OSHA process safety management (PSM) program?

Make A Plan For Success

The transition to GHS is a major undertaking, and getting it wrong could result in costly fines. Experienced OSHA safety consultants like the professionals at Optimum Safety Management can help your company make a smooth and successful transition through this complicated process. Get an assessment of where your company’s safety management program stands and what specific steps you’ll need to take to achieve full compliance. Get help dialing in your OSHA safety training program. Make a plan and rest secure in the knowledge that your company is compliant and your people are protected.

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