June 1 was a big deadline that got very little attention. It was the drop-dead date for American companies to update their Hazard Communication Programs. More than a dozen years ago, regulators started work on an update called the Globally Harmonized System (GHS), which brought an international approach to communicating chemical hazards. OSHA set a series of deadlines over the last three years in an attempt to give industry time to train workers on the new standard, reclassify chemicals under the new rules, switch over to new labeling and, finally, update company hazard communication plans.
Last week at the ASSE conference in Atlanta, Sven Rundman, of OSHA’s Office of Health Enforcement, gave an overview of implementation and some of the details of the program. A few of the takeaways:
The Changes Are Complex and Companies That Think They Are In Compliance May Not Be – GHS is a completely new way of looking at chemical hazards. For example, for companies that may put chemicals into smaller containers, there are very clearly prescribed rules for what must be on the company’s internal labels
Even If Companies Provided Training on The GHS Update, They May Still Need to Provide Updated Training – The first GHS deadline hit on December 1st, 2013. By that date, companies were required to give their employees training on the new system. However, now OSHA expects employers to provide any necessary updates on the specifics of the company’s new Hazard Communication Plan, especially on any newly identified physical or health hazards.
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 email@example.com.
Do You Use Temporary Workers or Outside Consultants? Better Make Sure They Are Trained – OSHA has been emphasizing the host/staffing agency relationship and its role in safety. Host employers and staffing companies are both responsible for worker safety and temporary workers are entitled to the same protections as other workers on site. That means both the host and staffing agency need to ensure that workers have been trained on the general changes to HazCom and any specific information on hazards at the host site.
How Will OSHA Enforce The New Deadline? By Hitting Companies Right in The Wallet – While OSHA has worked to get the word out on the specifics of the change, it has not been aggressive about communicating the deadline to the vast majority of American businesses, which may explain why surveys show a lot of companies are not aware of the deadline or have not met it. What OSHA has been doing is fining violators. OSHA has cited businesses for more than 14,500 Hazard Communication Standard violations since the end of 2013 when the training deadline went into place. More than 8,000 of those were deemed serious. Most of the penalties appear to be because companies had not plan or the plan was found to be lacking.
With OSHA fines going up by nearly 80 percent on August 1st, the cost of ignoring the GHS update could be very expensive.