Clear Sign of Confusion

Changes to OSHS’s hazard communication rules will standardize classification and labeling of chemicals globally in an effort to protect workers. At the same time, it’s creating confusion during the transition to the new system.
By Holly Jessen | November 21, 2014

Employees who work with chemicals are accustomed to watching for higher hazard rating numbers, indicating a more severe hazard. Now, with the changes to OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard, workers will have to adapt to a different rating system that makes a lower number the high risk. “It’s going the opposite way,” said Bob Yule, product launch manager for Solenis, formerly of Ashland Water Technologies, during a presentation at the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo. Complicating things even further, the Hazardous Materials Identification System from the American Coatings Association and the National Fire Protection Association will continue to use the hazard rating scale that sets higher numbers as higher risks.

That’s one area of potential confusion created by OSHA’s changes to hazcom, which it is making in order to align it with the United Nation’s Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. Another is the differences in the Department of Transportation's pictograms and the new hazcom pictograms. “They are very similar but yet very different,” says Kristi Ross, environmental, health and safety manager for U.S. Water Services.

Just the fact that the standard is changing will create some confusion, at least at first. Mike Mowbray, U.S. Water’s marketing and technology manager, says it currently takes him longer to find information in the new safety data sheets, although he believes that will change as he gets more familiar with the new system. Ross agrees. “I think with any new regulation, especially one of this magnitude, there is always going to be a little bit of confusion and wrinkles that need to be ironed out as it rolls out,” Ross says. “... As people get used to it, and understand how to apply it to their industry, that will become more second nature for them.”

The GSH is being implemented in Canada, the European Union, Australia and Japan, according to OSHA. But, because it’s a voluntary standard, not all countries are adopting every section in exactly the same way or in exactly the same timing, Ross says.

During his FEW presentation, Yule further explained that the U.S. is lagging in the global standardization process. “It’s kind of like the metric system, we’re a little bit behind the times and catching up,” he said. The changes to hazcom in the U.S. incorporate version three of the GSH standards, while the rest of the world is on version five. “So there is going to be more of this change going on,” he said.

In the U.S. employers were already required to train employees by last Dec. 1. Looking ahead, all chemical manufacturers, importers, distributors and employers must comply with the final rule by June 1, 2015, with the exception that distributors can ship containers without the new product labels until Dec. 1, 2015.

This effects ethanol production companies, whose employees must understand the new system and who must swap out old chemical labels and safety data sheets (under the old standard, material safety data sheets) as chemical supply companies comply with the new requirements. It’s also having a big impact on companies like U.S. Water, which is having to revise more than a thousand safety data sheets. This is a difficult and time-consuming process, Mowbray says.

At ethanol plants, the transition period is likely to be confusing, especially while safety information and labels of both old and new formats are in use. Generally, ethanol plants store safety information both electronically and, by law, around the plant, where the chemicals are used, so workers can access the information. As chemical supply companies start rolling out the new safety data sheets, in advance of the compliance date, this will create work in the ethanol plants. “They will have to go through the bookkeeping exercise of getting rid of all the old versions and replacing them with the new ones,” Mowbray says, adding that it’s very important that old information is expunged and replaced with new information.

Despite the work it involves and the potential for confusion, standardizing the format of hazard warnings and labels is a positive step in the right direction, agree Ross and Mowbray. That’s the case for companies like U.S. Water, that do business internationally, as well as within the United States. “For many years there have been different definitions for hazards, which can lead to unsafe situations for people that are handling chemicals,” she says. So this ... brings everybody under the same definition, which is a good thing.”

Even within the U.S., there’s been a wide range of formats used by various companies, for safety information on chemicals, Mowbray adds. “This will standardize it, which helps certainly internationally, but I think it’s going to have some impact domestically as well,” he says. 
The goal of both old and new standards is human health, Yule said at FEW. Having a better understanding of the hazards is about protecting the workers. The company takes very seriously the task of providing very concise and precise information in the new labels and safety data sheets. “It’s all about safety, reducing injuries,” he said.

Author: Holly Jessen
Managing Editor, Ethanol Producer Magazine


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Hazcom at a glance

The new standard applies to more than 43 million people working to produce or handling hazardous chemicals in more than 5 million U.S.
workplaces. The changes to the standard are expected to prevent more than 500 on-the-job injuries and 43 deaths a year.
Major changes:
• Hazard Classification: Chemical manufacturers and importers are required to determine the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import.
 Hazard classification under the new, updated standard provides specific criteria to address health and physical hazards as well as classification
 of chemical mixtures.
• Labels: Chemical manufacturers and importers must provide a label that includes a signal word, pictogram, hazard statement and
precautionary statement for each hazard class and category.
• Safety Data Sheets: The new format requires 16 specific sections, ensuring consistency in presentation of important protection information.

source: osha 

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