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Business Owners Gear Up for Workplace Hazard Change

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Deadlines are approaching for chemical manufacturers and distributors, who are working to meet a government-imposed June 1 deadline that governs how business owners label and classify chemicals.

In 2012, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration revised its hazard communication standard, changing the way businesses classify and label chemicals based on a new United Nations standard, known as the Globally Harmonized System, or GHS.

The June 1 deadline will require chemical makers and distributors, such as companies making holding tank chemicals and certain OEM chemical suppliers, to comply with the new classification and labeling requirements. 

OSHA began implementing the program in a rollout, imposing the first of a series of deadlines on business owners in December 2013.

The new standard affects businesses in three categories, according to Brad Harbaugh at MSDSonline, a private company that creates programs designed to help businesses comply with workplace safety rules.

First, employers were required to update workplace safety labels and train employees on those by December 2013.

The next deadline, June 1, requires chemical manufacturers and distributors to comply with the new international standard of labeling and classifying chemicals they pass onto consumers.

“The way in which hazards are classified has also had an affect on what goes on labels and what goes on safety data sheets, and that’s where employers will see the biggest changes,” Harbaugh said. “In the past, safety data sheets were called MSDS (material safety data sheets) with GHS adoption, they’re called SDS.”

More importantly, according to Harbaugh, the content of those data sheets has changed, impacting how chemical distributors, companies that receive their chemicals from manufacturers for repackaging or mixing, label that material before it is passed on to end-users.

“On a shipped label, there are six standard items that have to go on there, and that’s new,” Harbaugh said. “In the past, OSHA left it up to the manufacturer or distributor to figure out what to put on the label, but with GHS adoption, once a chemical has been classified using the GHS criteria, what goes on the label is very specific – OSHA tells you exactly what must go on there.”

Among other changes, the new system is designed comply with United Nations’ effort to create an international and universal system of chemical classification, so that companies receiving or sending chemicals internationally, use the same system.

This is a welcome change for Bryan Hull at Unique Natural Products, a Denver-based company that makes holding tank treatments for RVs.

“It provides a little more centralization, or harmonization, to make sure everyone has the same requirements, and even that those requirements are understood better,” Hull said. “In the past it was hard to know what was required from a manufacturer on MSDS sheets and now its a lot more uniform for everybody.”

The new standard also creates transparency on the hazards of chemicals, starting with manufacturers and trickling down to chemical distributors, according to Hull.

“In the old system for SDS (Safety Data Sheets), it was kind of up to the manufacturer as to what information was disclosed and how that worked, and as an organization that sells safe products, its kind of an easy transition for us and all-the-more helps promote that angle of things with our product line,” Hull said of the new disclosure requirements. 

According to Hull, another benefit is that the new standard helps ensure his company meets international standards when shipping products or chemicals to other countries.

“As we’ve begun to engage the international marketplace more, the MSDS (material safety data sheets) that we had used in the U.S. were not adequate for international distribution, so this kind of provides the simplicity of a single document, which does help us a lot,” Hull said.

But the rollout, which continues later this year with a Dec. 1 deadline mandating that manufacturers and distributors can no longer ship products labeled under the old system, is not without its complications, Harbaugh said, particularly for companies that receive chemicals to make a blend.

“What we’re finding is that there is a lot of people in that position (as chemical blenders) who are saying, ‘I’m not going to make this June 1 deadline because I haven’t gotten the information from my suppliers, and they don’t have to make the changes until June 1.’ ”

In that case, there might be an exception to the rule, Harbaugh said. 

“If you can prove that you tried in good faith to get the information and couldn’t obtain it; and you tried to get the information from somewhere else and couldn’t get it; and you tried to get the information on your own and couldn’t do it, in that case, (OSHA said) they can use selective enforcement, maybe give you a little break.”

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