The international movement to universal chemical labeling standards has been a work-in-progress for more than 50 years. Up until the last decade, most countries set their own labeling standards – creating many issues for exporters and importers. The recent uptick in global demand for chemicals only magnified this issue. Exporters saw the new cost of shipping rise to new levels, while importers were left to deal with the dangers of misidentified hazardous cargo. The United Nations (UN) published the Globally Harmonized System of Chemical Labeling (GHS) in 2003. The United States jumped on board in early 2012 by signing elements of these standards into law.
Purpose and Implementation
The aim of GHS is to bring global harmony to both classification and the hazard communication elements of chemicals—more specifically – labeling and Safety Data Sheets (SDS). GHS is a detailed set of standards that classifies criteria for chemical supply and transportation. Since GHS is not a legal instrument, countries and regions may voluntarily choose how they will adopt GHS standards and integrate them into their own laws. The UN only sets one stipulation for implementation: governments must maintain the building blocks of GHS. These elements cannot be altered. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) made minor additions and modifications to adapt GHS for American law. As more countries implement GHS, changes are anticipated. The UN meets every 2 years to discuss changes to help the system evolve to better meet the needs of the world.
June 1, 2015 is the main implementation date for HazCom 2012. All manufactures, importers, and employers must comply with the new requirements by this date. No new chemicals may enter the country or be produced within the country without proper labels after this point. For chemical distributors that do not manufacture or import the chemicals, there is one remaining window for compliance. December 1, 2015 is the delayed distribution deadline, so up until this date; chemical distributors may still have inventories of materials that were labeled under the old standard. All chemicals in use or in distribution in the United States must have proper labels after this point.
The key to GHS-compliant labeling is the SDS. Chemicals should generally come with a properly formatted SDS within its packaging. If it doesn’t, contact the manufacturer directly to request an SDS with the new GHS format. GHS requires one label to be placed on packaging and the other posted on the outside of containers so hazards can be identified during transportation. The U.S. is one of the few GHS participants that does not currently apply the GHS transportation labeling standards. Instead, the U.S. only incorporates GHS packaging labels and relies on existing Department of Transportation and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards for domestic transportation labeling standards.
Follow the link for more information: OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard Final Rule.
Reference: Graphic Products (2014). The Best Practice Guide To: HazCom 2012 Labeling [Pamphlet]. Beaverton, OR: Graphic Products, Inc.