New rules regarding labeling and hazard communications for chemicals will go into effect over the next year, but many questions remain on what the rules mean for distributors. This article examines the new requirements and provides tips for ensuring compliance.
Significant changes are in store for companies that make, stock or sell chemicals, as deadlines for implementing new rules from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration rapidly approach. Manufacturers must have new labeling and safety data sheets (SDS) for all of their chemicals by June 1, 2015, while distributors must sell chemicals with the old labels and SDS by December.
The new hazard communication standards (HCS) – or, rather, the changes to existing rules – were established in 2012 to comply with United Nations rules created in 2005. The goal of the rules is to make safety information more consistent and understandable for users, regardless of country of origin.
“The world is shrinking. Products are being sold in many regions, raw materials are coming from all over the world, and every region and country has its own way of structuring safety data sheets and labels,” says Senthil Pichandi, director of product safety and regulatory affairs at Henkel.
The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) is the U.N.’s attempt to overcome these differences with a focus on safety. “When they look from one supplier to another, they shouldn’t be seeing apples and oranges,” Pichandi says.
The Problematic Solution
While many of the classification systems that exist around the globe are similar, there are some significant differences that can create confusion about the types of hazards posed by different chemicals – and, as a result, how a user should respond if an accident with those chemicals occurs.
For example, “although most existing systems cover acute toxicity, … what is considered hazardous varies considerably,” according to an OSHA report, A Guide to The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). “These differences allow the same product to be hazardous in one country/system and not in another. At the very least, the same product has different labels and SDSs.”
In addition to updating labels and communications, GHS attempts to establish standards for measuring what is considered hazardous under each hazard category as determined by “consensus,” according to documentation from the U.N.
While the new rules may help to overcome some of this issue, “the globally harmonized system is anything but harmonized,” says Roger Lee, vice president and general manager, North America, for specialty chemicals distribution at Ellsworth Adhesives.
Each country participating in the program still has to pass its own set of rules to achieve compliance with the U.N. system. And not every country that has agreed to the system has implemented its country-specific rules. Canada, for example, expects to issue an update that will realign its workplace hazardous materials information system to make it compliant with GHS, but no date has been set.
In addition, the GHS document is reviewed every two years with revisions issued after that review. The system is currently on its fifth revision, and while it is highly recommended to adopt the revisions, countries may adopt the guidelines in any of the stages.
The process of achieving compliance is a huge undertaking. Every safety data sheet and label that is connected to chemicals needs to be updated. For Henkel, that number is around 40,000 products.
Labels must include the new standardized pictograms (see Figure 1) with a red diamond around them, which requires all labeling to be printed in color rather than in black and white, as many industrial labels appear. Material safety data sheets, which have been a part of hazard communications for many years, must be updated to the new safety data sheet standard format.
And the two pieces don’t always occur on the same schedule. Ellsworth sends out new SDS when they’re received, as they are required to do under the prior rules, but often the product being shipped may contain the old labeling. “That can be a problem if something happens and the label doesn’t match the SDS,” Lee says.
Questions also abound about the labeling responsibility of distributors who often sell individual pieces out of a delivery rather than the complete container, for example, individual tubes of adhesives out of a case. Who is responsible for
For more information on the pictograms, visit https://www.osha.gov/Publications/HazComm_QuickCard_Pictogram.html
labeling those individual components: the distributor who separated the package that contained the label or the manufacturer or formulator where the product originated? And what about products that come in containers that are too small to accommodate all of the standard information?
(Editor’s note: These questions were posed to OSHA, but the agency was unable to provide responses by our print deadline. We will update on mdm.com when we receive more information.)
Getting Ahead of the Problem
The key to compliance with the hazard communications standards from OSHA is getting ahead of the problem.
“This is the largest regulatory change from OSHA in more than 30 years,” Henkel’s Pichandi says. “It cannot be implemented overnight.”
OSHA’s three-year transition period is nearing its close, and some companies may have underestimated what it will actually take to get the appropriate pieces in place, according to Wes Maertz, technical safety specialist at Grainger. “They’re on the clock and the clock is winding down,” he says.
Maertz says distributors need to overcome three key challenges to be prepared:
Training – Under the new HCS, employers were required to have trained their workers on the new SDS format and label elements. “That deadline has come and gone,” Maertz says, but with new hires, people transferring throughout companies and the need for reminders of the changes, training will be an ongoing process.
Safety data sheet turn – Under the OSHA rules, between now and June 1, companies can still follow the 1994 HCS, but because some manufacturers have been proactive, there’s a “mixed bag” of SDS out there, Maertz says. And keeping up with the changes can be a huge undertaking. If, for example, SDS are stored in a binder, think about how long it would take to replace each of those as new sheets come in. Plan ahead and audit the files to determine which sheets still need to be updated.
Workplace labeling – The final component of the new hazard communications standards is workplace labeling, or the labels that appear on smaller containers throughout the workplace, for example, cleaning solutions that are dispensed into spray bottles from a larger container. “There are some inconsistences in those labels with regard to the new rules,” Maertz says. This also includes “alternative workplace labeling” that may be used in place of individual labeling for these types of products. These updates need to be completed by June 1, 2016.
The regulations require distributors to train their own employees, Maertz says, but they can also take a proactive role in helping up and down the supply chain beyond providing current labels and new SDS.
Grainger created an extensive training and education program to stay well ahead of the deadlines, including webinars to educate its suppliers about the requirements. Participation exceeded 90 percent for key suppliers, according to Maertz. The company also issued a challenge to its manufacturer partners to update the information well before the deadline, an initiative that also has garnered positive results.
Other distributors have sought information from manufacturers, such as Henkel. But the challenge with relying on manufacturers to provide training for distributors is that the training will be colored by the interpretation of any given manufacturer, Henkel’s Pichandi says. Instead, distributors should look directly to OSHA for guidance documents rather than rely on suppliers’ interpretations about specific standards.
Henkel, however, has been compiling an FAQ based on the questions it has already received and will continue to update it as new questions arise. In addition, the manufacturer offers downloadable materials with information on how it is implementing the new guidelines.
Inventory management also becomes more critical for the next 12 months, as distributors are allowed to sell product with the old labeling only through Dec. 1, 2015. At that point, it is unclear if there will be a process for relabeling noncompliant product or if those products will have to be disposed of.