You're probably already familiar with Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). Maybe you deal with potentially hazardous chemicals every day, manage a facility that occasionally uses chemicals, or has spray booths on the shop floor. MSDSs are the standardized way that we communicate the safety and health dangers that chemicals can cause and how to deal with them, but this is all about to change.
But are you familiar with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (also known as the GHS)?
The GHS is a new way of communicating the risks posed by chemicals that is being used across the globe and will soon be coming to your place of work. Buy why?
Why Today’s MSDSs Need To Change
MSDSs are everywhere: occupational health & safety regulations require you to keep your MSDs on hand wherever chemicals are being used to minimize the risks to your health and the environment.
MSDSs are also one of the main tools used by environmental managers and specialists to keep track of what materials are coming into their facilities and what types of hazardous emissions could be generated on site.
But MSDSs are not always the most transparent documents and can make environmental reporting a bit difficult sometimes. They rarely give exact chemical compositions and instead make EH&S managers use wide ranges and guess at how much of a certain chemical has been used.
This means inaccurate reporting and countless hours of frustration.
How Tomorrow’s GHS Will Change MSDS Management
The Globally Harmonized System (GHS) has been developed partially to correct these errors and to make chemical safety management simpler from country to country.
For example, a chemical may be considered carcinogenic in one country, but not in another. This leads to confusion when that chemical is being used in a similar process in two different countries. What sort of control technologies or protections would need to be used? How does that affect sales of the final product globally?
GHS has been developed through a combined effort of the United States, Canada, Europe, and the United Nations. While it will eventually be adopted by all participants, it is only in use in certain countries at this time.
The European Union has already adopted the use of GHS, in 2009; Canada does not have a strict deadline, but will probably adopt the new system within the next few years.
Currently the United States is slowly working towards the GHS but is still gathering data before it publishes its final ruling. Afterwards a 3 to 5 year implementation period will likely take place.
It is clear, however, that the GHS will be coming to your country in the near future. The new GHS is expected to have a big impact on other regulations that govern transportation of dangerous goods, public health, and agriculture.
What Changes Will GHS Bring?
Producers will still need to prepare MSDSs and provide them to their customers, labels and MSDSs will undergo some changes:
- Labels will use new pictograms, and include either the signal word “warning” or “danger”.
- The 9 Section MSDS will no longer be acceptable. Instead the more comprehensive 16 Section MSDS will be required.
- Some new information, like product classification, will be required to be included in the MSDS.
It is not yet clear in North America if product labels will be required to list the names of a product’s hazardous ingredients. Your country may still be determining the final ruling about how it will implement the GHS system.
Even if your business is not directly affected – yet – by the GHS, you could be working with, selling to, or buying from another business that is. That’s why it’s important to familiarize yourself with the GHGS now, even if it won’t reach your own country in the next few years.
Here are some resources to learn more about the GHS:
United States: U.S. Department of Labor
How to Keep Up With SDS Management
The GHS will likely make your environmental management harder before it gets better. In light of this, having a good SDS Management System is the best way to stay afloat. A good SDS Management System will ease the storage and organiztion of SDSs so you can archive old MSDSs and even report missing SDSs. An electronic system can ensure easy access to these documents on the shop floor and data can be extracted for analysis. If you are thinking about implementing a strong SDS, our eBook will walk you through all the necessary steps.
About the Author: Alex Chamberlain is a writer and blogger who regularly contributes to ERA Environmental Management Solutions' blog. You can find Alex on Google+, LinkedIn & ERA's Environmental Compliance Blog