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Globally Harmonized System, Purple Book

In 2012, OSHA updated its Hazard Communication Standard (HazCom) to align with the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). Many of these changes have begun to impact employers, as businesses are required to train workers in how to read the new chemical labels and safety data sheets, and beginning this June, businesses must also have compliant labels in their workplaces.

There have been many workplace discussions about how to get up to speed with the new requirements. Employers must understand what information is needed on new hazardous chemical labels including pictograms, signal words and hazard statements. Safety data sheets must now contain 16 specific sections to help workers quickly identify the information they need about a chemical.

Although new GHS requirements are still being phased in this year, OSHA has already indicated that we may see additional updates to HazCom in the future. According to OSHA’s most recent regulatory agenda, which was released late in 2014, the agency plans to continually update HazCom to reflect ongoing changes to GHS.

Chemical Labels

Listen to our podcast about HazCom labeling updates.

This may seem quick since we are only now implementing GHS in the U.S., but the standards currently being adopted are actually already outdated. The GHS itself is a living document, and the United Nations updates it every two years. Currently, we are implementing the third edition of GHS in the U.S., but the U.N. is already working on the sixth edition.

In its announcement, OSHA states, “In order to maintain alignment with the GHS and other countries who have adopted the GHS, OSHA is considering rulemaking to align with the most recent version of the GHS.”

These potential changes are considered “long-term actions,” so no timeline currently exists outlining any updates. It is advisable, however, for employers to keep an eye on HazCom in the coming years for any additional changes related to GHS.

Be Prepared for HazCom Changes

The best way to be prepared for changes—aside from paying attention to OSHA’s rulemaking announcements—is to create a workplace that can adapt to change fairly quickly. Many companies are utilizing electronic record systems to maintain safety data sheets, as this allows for quick updates and less paperwork that could get lost. Other companies are developing procedures for when and how labels on chemical containers will be updated. Having technology such as an industrial label printer in your facility can allow you to print new labels on-demand when you need them, which can benefit workplaces now as the initial changeover is taking place, as well as in the future if additional changes to labels occur.

For more information about the current HazCom labeling updates, read Chemical Labels: Do Yours Look Like This Yet?

Confused about the timeline of GHS implementation? Take a look at the infographic below.

Globally Harmonized System

Click to see the entire infographic.