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OSHA issues proposed rule to adopt the Globally Harmonized Hazard Communication System (10/1)

October 1, 2009
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A proposed rule to align the OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) with provisions of the United Nations Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) was published in the September 30 Federal Register.

The current HCS requires chemical manufacturers and importers to evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import and provide information to subsequent users. The current standard requires all employers to have a hazard communication program for workers exposed to hazardous chemicals. The program includes materials such as container labels, safety data sheets, and employee training.

A number of countries, including the United States, international organizations and stakeholders participated in developing the GHS to address inconsistencies in hazard classification and communications. The GHS was developed to provide a single, harmonized system to classify chemicals, labels and safety data sheets with the primary benefit of increasing the quality and consistency of information provided to workers, employers and chemical users. Under the GHS, labels would include signal words, pictograms, and hazard and precautionary statements. Additionally, information on safety data sheets would be presented in a designated order.

“The proposal to align the hazard communication standard with the GHS will improve the consistency and effectiveness of hazard communications and reduce chemical-related injuries, illnesses and fatalities,” said acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jordan Barab. “Following the GHS approach will increase workplace safety, facilitate international trade in chemicals, and generate cost savings from production efficiencies for firms that manufacture and use hazardous chemicals.”

“Today’s action is the result of the sustained efforts of both the new and previous administration, demonstrating the non-partisan nature of this issue,” stated the occupational health and safety consultancy ORC Worldwide in Washington, DC. “Harmonizing OSHA’s standards with the GHS is supported by a wide range of stakeholders in the safety and health community. This effort also manifests OSHA’s increasing sensitivity to global safety and health trends, promising improved communication of chemical hazards to workers while at the same time streamlining international trade.”

“ORC is committed to working with OSHA and other stakeholders to move this rulemaking forward,” says ORC Senior Vice President Frank White. “We believe aligning OSHA rules with the GHS will help companies and protect workers, so we are hopeful this time the process will avoid the paralyzing polarization that has too often characterized previous OSHA rulemakings.”

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