Most companies in the United States are aware of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and understand its significance in promoting workplace safety. Some may not recognize the GHS or Globally HarmonizedSystem, as the GHS came about more recently and is still in development. Designed as a means to classify dangerous chemicals on a worldwide scale and facilitate EHS services globally, all businesses should understand the significance of the new system and whether it affects them.
Explaining the Globally Harmonized System
The GHS is a labeling and standardization system for classifying hazardous chemicals. It function is almost the same as OSHA does in the United States on a global scale. It is a worldwide resource on the safe handling, use, transportation, and disposal of chemicals that can cause injury or be a threat to people or the environment.
While the GHS is not a regulatory group and makes no actual laws, the worldwide system provides a standard by which countries can increase their policies for handling hazardous chemicals both domestically and internationally.
Why Was the GHS Developed?
The GHS came into existence in 1992. This system of global labeling and classification was developed by the United Nations in an effort to facilitate communication between different countries and ensure that chemical safety and handling was treated the same throughout the world. The system, which is still in development and not yet fully implemented in all countries, replaces the many different classifications used in those countries to offer an across-the-board solution for international understanding.
The ultimate goal of the Globally Harmonized System is to provide documentation and protocols for hazardous chemical use and handling that will be recognized throughout the world to standardize health and safety policies. As of 2015, more than 65 countries have adopted the guidelines offered by the system. The United States began implementing these newer standards in March of 2012.
OSHA and the GHS
Although the U.S. has followed the rules and regulatory policies provided by OSHA since its inception, OSHA began modifying its EHS services in 2012 to comply with GHS guidelines. This has included various adjustments to its Hazard Communication Standard and the renaming and formulation of a new Safety Data Sheet. Previously called a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), OSHA has renamed the document to correspond with the standardized Safety Data Sheet (SDS) used by the GHS to reduce confusion and increase conformity.
The new SDS contain sixteen required points of information outlined for easy interpretation that essentially contain the same details as the old MSDS sheets. Like other countries, OSHA continues to implement useful parts of the system where most necessary. The significant changes affecting most countries include changes to SDS, safety label symbols, and a new classification system for hazardous chemicals, all of which is being slowly incorporated into existing regulations by OSHA.
The Globally Harmonized System of hazardous chemical classification and handling is a work in progress with the goal of facilitating worldwide communication regarding chemical hazards. By using a standardized globally-accepted system, there will be fewer questions pertaining to chemical classification and handling for domestic and international EHS services, resulting in fewer safety issues. Companies working with hazardous chemicals and wondering how the GHS may affect them should stay updated on the most recent OSHA policies. In doing so, they will learn about the new safety data sheets, safety labels, and other modifications to OSHA regulations and what must be done be compliant.