OSHA Gets Serious About HAZCOM Changes

logo & ghsOSHA is taking four years to implement its changes to the HAZCOM standard to incorporate the international Globally Harmonized System (GHS).  The regulations lay out a timetable for industry to get on board with the changes, but so far, the missing element has been enforcement.   That changed this week when the agency issued its inspection procedures for OSHA officers.

Generally OSHA has tried to work with industry on voluntary compliance.  The rollout of the GHS changes was spread out over an extended period of time.  It began in December, 2013 when employers were expected to train workers on the changes that GHS brought to HAZCOM.   Last month, manufacturers and distributors were required to switch over their labeling and data sheets to conform to GHS.   Distributors have until December of this year to work through their old inventory and make sure that all chemicals they ship use the new system.  Employers must have their own HAZCOM plans updated by June of next year.

However, industry appears to be way behind in compliance.  GHS dramatically changed the way chemicals are classified. Interpreting how labeling information should be handled took longer than expected.   But the end result is that a lot of manufacturers and distributors missed the June deadline.

So now OSHA has released its inspection policies and procedures.   For anyone who knows OSHA, regulations don’t mean much until the agency tells field units how to enforce them.    The first bit of news is that OSHA is not going to be heavy-handed if industry is making a good faith effort to comply.  For example, if a distributor missed the deadline because the product manufacturer wasn’t ready, OSHA will be understanding.    However, the agency is clearly worried that, if any of the steps to compliance lag, there will be a domino effect and industry will miss the June 2016 deadline

Training – the Big Problem For Employers

The deadline on manufacturers and distributors is not that important for employers, but the guidance on inspecting for training is.   GHS is part of the employee “Right to Know” standard and OSHA’s expectation that workers receive proper training is well established.

The procedures tell inspectors or investigators what to look for to determine if proper training was provided.   It states that failure to properly train workers can be a categorized as a “serious” citation, meaning it caries a $7,000 fine per violation.  It also makes it clear that temporary employees must be trained as well.  

As an employer, did you provide the proper training on GHS, do you have a system to track that training and does it include a way to document that temporary workers were trained?  If you need help meeting these requirements, please feel free to contact me at kenwells@lifelinestrategies.com.


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