What the heck is GHS?

GHS PictogramIt’s been quite a while between blog posts for me, and for those of you who have been coming back to this site for safety information and finding nothing new, please accept my apologies.  Just been busy helping Clients with specific problems, but I’ll try to do better.  With so many regulatory agencies in existence, no workplace accident goes unnoticed.  When the number of incidences of a specific type rises, knowledgeable safety persons begin to look into how and why these accidents happened in hopes of making changes so the number of injured employees decreases or stops all together.  They say a little knowledge goes a long way, and I believe that to be true.

I know you are just trying to run your business, and you don’t have much time to worry about employees getting hurt.  It’s just kind of an assumption that no one would deliberately try to get hurt, but time after time safety professionals find that there are physical things that caused the accident, but long before the physical things, there were mental things that caused the physical things to come together.

Simply put, your business has chemicals in the workplace to make it run.  Everything from cleaners for the bathroom sink to other substances you might need to make the products to be sold.  No business is without chemicals of some kind.  Manufacturer’s of chemicals have been required to put labels on chemical containers, and provide additional information about the substance on a document called a “Material Safety Data Sheet”.   All businesses are required to have “MSDS’s” READILY AVAILABLE  where employees are exposed to those chemicals because Occupational Safety and Health regulations say employers have a DUTY to WARN employees about hazards in the workplace before they are exposed to them, and a DUTY to PROTECT employees from those dangers.

How well do you warn your employees and protect them from chemicals in your workplace?  The Federal Hazard Communication Standard of 1983 mandated the information found on today’s Material Safety Data Sheets.  It specified what had to be on chemical labels, but not what it should look like.  That’s the rub.  Since labels could look different from one another, your employee might KNOW  how the chemical could hurt them or not.  The law said “employees have the right to know how chemicals could hurt them”.

In 2012 The Federal Hazard Communication Standard was updated, and the responsible parties changed the language to say “employees have the right to UNDERSTAND how chemicals might hurt them.”  To make that happen, Federal OSHA adopted the chemical labeling system recommended by the United Nations.  The system is called GHS or the “Globally Harmonized System”.  This method of chemical labeling standardizes the way labels will look.  Every chemical label, no matter where it comes from, will have the same information in the same place.  When implemented, your employees will know and understand quickly the dangers they face when they open the lid of the container and are exposed to the harmful substance waiting inside.

As part of the same law, “MSDS” (Material Safety Data Sheets) will now be referred to as simply “SDS” or Safety Data Sheets.  Once again, all SDS’s will look alike so employees don’t have to thumb through 10 pages to find “First Aid”, as it will always be found in section 4.

It might seem like just more government regulation to make your job of running your business more difficult, but I see it a little different.  You and your employees work hard to be profitable at the end of the year.  All that effort goes to waste when someone gets hurt causing insurance to rise and hardship on the remaining employees, not to mention the suffering of the individual involved in the accident.  Chemical labels are confusing to say the least, and my guess is that your employees simply ignore them.  A little knowledge goes a long way!  That’s why the new law requires you to train your employees on the GHS labeling method coming, and the changes with Material Safety Data Sheets.  In fact, you are required to train them by December 1st of this year (2013)!

It’s not about the financial penalties for failure to train employees by the date, it’s about making your employees safer in your workplace.  It’s about your employees not suffering chemical injuries because they are lazy or uninformed, and about you driving your hard earned dollars to the bottom line instead of giving them away to the insurance Company.  Do your own research.  Buy somebody’s training package.  Or buy the one I have created for you on this web site.  Educate your people so the number of chemical related work injuries can go down.  Remember, safety is what you and your employees DO, not what we talk about.



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