OSHA Submits Final Rule Adopting Globally Harmonized System (GHS) to OMB

OSHAs HazCom Standard is advancing towards Rule; OSHA’s long-awaited revised Hazard Communication Standard (HAZCOM) – which adopts the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) is one step closer to being published. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has received the revised HCS for review.

OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) requires chemical manufacturers and importers to evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import, and prepare labels and material safety data sheets to convey the hazards and associated protective measures to users of the chemicals. All employers with hazardous chemicals in their workplaces are required to have a hazard communication program, including labels on containers, material safety data sheets (MSDS), and training for employees. Within the United States (U.S.), there are other Federal agencies that also have requirements for classification and labeling of chemicals at different stages of the life cycle. Internationally, there are a number of countries that have developed similar laws that require information about chemicals to be prepared and transmitted to affected parties. These laws vary with regard to the scope of substances covered, definitions of hazards, the specificity of requirements (e.g., specification of a format for MSDSs), and the use of symbols and pictograms. The inconsistencies between the various laws are substantial enough that different labels and safety data sheets must often be used for the same product when it is marketed in different nations. The diverse and sometimes conflicting national and international requirements can create confusion among those who seek to use hazard information. Labels and safety data sheets may include symbols and hazard statements that are unfamiliar to readers or not well understood. Containers may be labeled with such a large volume of information that important statements are not easily recognized. Development of multiple sets of labels and safety data sheets is a major compliance burden for chemical manufacturers, distributors, and transporters involved in international trade. Small businesses may have particular difficulty in coping with the complexities and costs involved. As a result of this situation, and in recognition of the extensive international trade in chemicals, there has been a long-standing effort to harmonize these requirements and develop a system that can be used around the world. In 2003, the United Nations adopted the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). Countries are now adopting the GHS into their national regulatory systems. OSHA published the NPRM on September 30, 2009 and held public hearings in Washington, DC and Pittsburgh, PA in March 2010. The record closed on June 1, 2010. OSHA is scheduled to publish the final rule in August 2011.

Multiple sets of requirements for labels and safety data sheets present a compliance burden for U.S. manufacturers, distributors, and transports involved in international trade. The comprehensibility of hazard information and worker safety will be enhanced as the GHS will: (1) Provide consistent information and definitions for hazardous chemicals; (2) address stakeholder concerns regarding the need for a standardized format for material safety data sheets; and (3) increase understanding by using standardized pictograms and harmonized hazard statements. The increase in comprehensibility and consistency will reduce confusion and thus improve worker safety and health. In addition, the adoption of the GHS would facilitate international trade in chemicals, reduce the burdens caused by having to comply with differing requirements for the same product, and allow companies that have not had the resources to deal with those burdens to be involved in international trade. This is particularly important for small producers who may be precluded currently from international trade because of the compliance resources required to address the extensive regulatory requirements for classification and labeling of chemicals. Thus every producer is likely to experience some benefits from domestic harmonization, in addition to the benefits that will accrue to producers involved in international trade. Several nations, including the European Union, have adopted the GHS with an implementation schedule through 2015. U.S. manufacturers, employers, and employees will be at a disadvantage in the event that our system of hazard communication is not in compliance with the GHS.

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