What you need to know about the GHS regulations

There are numerous regulations and agencies in place to guide companies on workplace safety and the latest one is in the midst of a rollout. The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals is a few years in the making, but on December 1, 2013, employers were expected to begin training their workers on labeling and preparation of Safety Data Sheets. Distributors are allowed to ship products under the old system until December 1, 2015, according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

So what do these new standards mean for employers and their staff? In a nutshell, that everyone will be safer and more aware of potentially harmful chemicals. Here are some more essential questions organizations will have about the GHS regulations, as well as their answers.

"As the name implies, GHS is a global initiative."

Who do the new rules impact?
In the U.S., approximately 5 million workplaces and 40 million workers will be affected, according to OSHA. These organizations and individuals will benefit from clearer labeling, standardized procedures and access to important information. But the GHS does not impact the U.S. alone. As the name implies, GHS is a global initiative that will take place across the international market. That means any group that handles or transports chemicals will be subject to these regulations, allowing for easier transport and consistent labeling between countries.

What types of chemicals fall under the GHS?
As OSHA explained, "the term 'chemical' is used broadly to include substances, products, mixtures, preparations, or any other terms that may be used by existing systems." For the most part, the standards apply to:

  • Workplace chemicals
  • Consumer chemicals
  • Pesticides
  • Materials governed under transportation of dangerous goods

So far in the U.S., consumer chemicals and pesticides have not been brought up to speed, but changes are imminent. Just as GHS unites standards for the international community, it also brings chemicals of different varieties and in separate sectors together under one program. For a more complete list of materials and any other information regarding the GHS standards, refer to OSHA's complete guide.

The correct labels can accurately identify hazardous chemicals.
The correct labels can accurately identify hazardous chemicals.

When do these standards become effective?
The GHS rollout is underway and it is happening in stages. Because there are several steps for organizations to take, and because there are already chemicals in circulation labeled under previous standards, complete GHS implementation will occur over the course of a few years. OSHA outlined the necessary steps and relevant dates:

  • December 1, 2013: Employers were to have competed employee training on new labeling and Safety Data Sheet format.
  • June 1, 2015: Manufacturers, importers and employers must have complied with all modified provisions of the rule, with one exception, detailed in the next point.
  • December 1, 2015: Distributors can continue to ship chemicals labeled under the old system until this date.
  • June 1, 2016: Update alternative workplace labeling and communication programs as necessary, considering new employee training and new hazard labeling.
  • Transition period to the dates noted above: During the transition, organizations may comply with the new standards, the current standard, or both.

Why are these regulations necessary?
The goal of the GHS standards is to unite labeling, hazard identification and protocols surrounding dangerous chemicals on a global scale. As materials are shipped across borders, current standards vary from region to region. If a chemical is adequately labeled in one country, it may not be relevant in the next. Not only can these labels and data sheets be difficult to read, the chemicals themselves may not be considered hazardous in one area when they are somewhere else, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Needless to say, these conditions can place employees in harm's way. The benefits of GHS standards are that they alleviate those dangers and offer a common process. In conjunction, the International Organization for Standardization and the World Health Organization is updating their standards and criteria to match those of the GHS.