GHS and its impact on the regulated community
As OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) nears its 25th anniversary since being adapted, the agency is considering modifications to the standard by incorporating elements of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). This system was initially adapted by the United Nations in 2002 with the goal of having as many countries as possible implement it by 2008. For the US regulated community of industries where employees are potentially exposed to hazardous chemicals, complying with a new version of the HCS will be a daunting challenge.
Background on the GHS
Because different countries developed their own laws regulating what chemicals are covered, the definitions of hazards, and formats for safety data sheets, inconsistencies arose when chemical products are sold throughout the world. The GHS was created primarily to standardize the way hazardous chemicals are categorized based on their health, physical, and environmental effects. Additionally, this information must be communicated on updated Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and labels.
Comparing Safety Data
The current OSHA HCS does not specify a given format for chemical hazard data provided that information for general hazard classes (e.g. health and physical hazards) is conveyed. This “performance-oriented” method of compliance opens the data up to various interpretations and may lead to inconsistent hazard determinations. The GHS clarifies this approach by adding specific health hazard classes such as skin corrosion, eye damage, and reproductive toxicity along with detailed criteria for classifying the hazards.