GlobalChem: Classification still cause for concern

27 February 2014 11:15  [Source: ICB]

Implementation of OSHA’s HazCom 2012 standard is proceeding according to timetable but questions remain over exact requirements and the level of 
harmonisation with other nation’s regulations implementing the UN’s GHS

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) revised Hazard Communication Standard (HazCom 2012), which aligns the US occupational health and safety system with the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), was published in the Federal Register in March 2012 (77 FR 17574) and went into effect in May 2012.

 The label says it all?

Copyright: Rex Features

The first compliance deadline for training on the new label elements and safety data sheet (SDS) formats was 1 December 2013 and companies are now looking to 1 June 2015, when SDSs and labels covered under the standard must meet the new requirements.

For companies that make, distribute or use large numbers of chemicals, meeting the requirements of HazCom 2012 is a daunting task given the extensive changes required for classification and labelling. In addition, questions remain, particularly with respect to the labelling of very small volume packaging. There are also uncertainties about the extent of harmonisation that will be achieved through alignment of the US HazCom 2012 standard with GHS.

The update of the Hazard Communication Standard, according to OSHA, will in addition to providing a common approach to classifying chemicals and communicating hazard information, improve the quality and consistency of hazard information in the workplace, thus making it safer for workers; help reduce trade barriers; lead to increased productivity; and provide savings for US businesses that regularly handle, store and use hazardous chemicals. Many nations to date have aligned their hazard communication standards with GHS and most countries are expected to do so eventually. EU member states have been implementing the Regulation on the Classification, Labelling and Packaging of substances and mixtures (CLP), with the deadline for substances behind them and that for mixtures also 1 June 2015.

“US companies that sell products into the EU have a distinct advantage with respect to compliance with HazCom 2012, because they have already been working toward CLP compliance,” notes Mark Duvall, a principal with Beveridge & Diamond.

Now that the first deadline has passed, it is difficult to say how many companies with hazardous chemicals in the workplace met the requirements for employee training on the new label elements. The updated requirements include new classifications and pictograms and hazard and precautionary statements, and safety data sheets, which will replace current material safety data sheets (MSDS).

“As with most new regulations, there was some difficulty getting the word out about the requirements and some companies did not meet the deadline. While I am not aware that OSHA has taken any enforcement actions at this point, businesses that have not completed employee training should do so in order to be in compliance,” Duvall says.

It is the deadline of 1 June 2015 that will be challenging for many companies. By that time, the new label and SDS format must be implemented, which first requires that manufacturers classify all of their products containing hazardous chemicals – both substances and mixtures – according to the revised HazCom standard. Some companies will likely use classifications defined by the EU, where available, or other manufacturers (such as through SIEFs (substance information exchange fora) for the CLP regulations, but there are many compounds and mixtures that have not yet been classified, and OSHA has placed the burden on manufacturers to do so.

This approach to classification of chemicals is, in fact, an area of concern for many. The GHS does not require the use of a single classification for a substance or mixture, which can result in multiple hazard classifications for the same product. The American Chemistry Council (ACC) is concerned that GHS is not being implemented in the same way in other countries, leading possibly to US producers having to use multiple classifications in various markets.

“Since governments across the globe have begun implementing GHS, they have done so differently, resulting in significant differences in requirements depending on the region,” states Alexa Burr, manager of global affairs with ACC. Greg Skelton, senior director for global affairs with ACC, adds that industry representatives are speaking with various governments to try and iron out these anomalies as they arise (including efforts to reduce the need for dual classifications), but it is far from clear that the system is going to be truly harmonised.

Many in the industry are also unhappy with the time allotted for compliance with HazCom 2012. The Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) would like to have seen an implementation period of five years, according to Elizabeth O’Neal, senior manager of government relations for the trade group. “Despite the significantly shorter time, however, SOCMA members have responded and are actively working to be in compliance with all deadlines,” she remarks.

Duvall adds that many companies recognise that switching from the old HazCom system to the new one requires a massive amount of work. “Not only do all products have to be classified using the new system, new labels and SDSs must be written, which is a significant task for each substance or mixture, and then they have to translated into various languages. As a result, those companies that haven’t already started working on updating their HazCom materials will find that 1 June 2015 will be here sooner than they think,” he states.

Even companies that are working toward the deadline are concerned about meeting some of the requirements. “Finding the space on small bottles for multiple country labels and other labelling requirements is difficult, and can be particularly problematic for companies like ours that sell specialty products in small volume packages,” asserts Jeanette Ward, regulatory affairs manager at DSM Functional Materials, which is a SOCMA member.

She is also grappling with how OSHA will view the labelling of DSM’s products that are stored in the company’s warehouse, which in the past have been kept in compliance with the destination zone GHS, but not the US. ACC is also seeking clarification on some points with OSHA, including the information that is required on labels, according to Burr.

Where does that leave companies with respect to the 2015 deadline? Duvall thinks that most will meet the 1 June deadline, and even for those that do not, there will probably be some time immediately following that date during which OSHA does not purse enforcement activities.

“Companies should not take the deadline lightly, however; OSHA will most likely begin enforcement efforts within a few months of the deadline,” he says. Industry, in the meantime, is hopeful that HazCom 2012, and GHS in general, will indeed prove to be an initiative that increases the efficiency of regulatory compliance, and if so, will be used as an example for other international legislation.

Author: Cynthia Challener

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