It has been more than a dozen years in the making, but the final deadline for employers to update their hazard communications programs to include the international Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) hits on June 1st. The rules were developed by international treaty in 2003 and OSHA has given industry a series of deadlines to meet toward full compliance. Based on every indication many (perhaps most) American businesses are not ready.
Do you need help getting your own HazCom program in shape? Do you have new Safety Data Sheets on chemicals? Have you updated the program to include the GHS changes? Are your employees trained on your program? If you need an audit/gap analysis, help developing a program or training for employees, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Under OSHA’s implementation schedule, companies were required to train their employees on the changes by December of 2013. Then manufacturers and shippers were expected to start using the new GHS labeling and classification system last June and were required to fully adopt the new system by December of 2015. The last step applies to individual businesses where employees may be exposed to chemicals.
What companies need to do to meet the June 1 deadline: Requirements for those companies include the following checklist:
- Prepare a written hazard communication program.
- Develop an inventory of all hazardous chemicals in the workplace.
- Ensure that all containers of hazardous chemicals are properly labeled.
- Maintain Safety Data Sheets using the new GHS system for all hazardous chemicals and make sure they are readily available to affected workers.
- Determine how to convey hazard information on portable chemical containers (temporary containers for solvents for example).
- Train workers on the elements of your program, hazards, protective measures, etc.
Some level of generic training is acceptable, but the regulations clearly require that companies inform employees (and contractors or temporary employees) of specific hazardous chemicals in the workplace and details of the Haz Com program.
How will OSHA enforce the deadline: OSHA has not publicized an enforcement plan for the new deadline, but it is a near certainty that the agency will make an example of violators. The question is when. Companies were cited for Haz Com violations by OSHA 5,482 times in OSHA inspections between 2014 and 2015 and employers received more than $3.3 million in proposed fines, making it the second most cited violation. Increasingly, when OSHA cites a company for other violations, it has added fines for inadequate Haz Com training, pumping up the overall cost to violators.
The problem in this case is that the manufacturers and shippers have been slow to send employers updated labels and Safety Data Sheets. That puts the employers in the unfortunate situation of being responsible for fines but having to rely on their manufacturers and shippers to help them get into compliance. What should they do? OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels told a recent conference that OSHA’s compliance officers are checking SDSs during inspections, and OSHA is citing non-compliance where appropriate. “I’m really trying to push the envelope on this,” he said. He stressed that, as OSHA has explained in the past, if employers can demonstrate they have made good-faith efforts to obtain compliant SDSs but been unsuccessful, they will not face citations, according to OH&S magazine.