GHS: A Short Acronym for a Big Idea: Jennifer Silk Has Been a Proponent of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals since the Very Beginning. with OSHA Tentatively Looking at 2008 as the Start of Implementation in the United States, He's about to See All That Hard Work Pay Off

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We've been hearing about it for years, and now the time appears to finally have arrived for GHS, a worldwide system for standardizing and harmonizing the classification and labeling of chemicals. Developed by the United Nations, GHS, to me, seems like a logical way to approach:

* Defining health, physical and environmental hazards of chemicals.

* Creating classification processes that use available data on chemicals for comparison with the defined hazard criteria.

* Communicating hazard information, as well as protective measures, on labels and material safety data sheets (MSDSs).

I never have met a safety manager who deals with chemicals who has not complained about seemingly warring federal regulations from OSHA, EPA and the Department of Transportation--let alone regulations governing chemicals produced or sold in other countries--regarding the storage, transportation and identification of chemicals. Service providers have sprung up that do nothing but help companies manage and standardize their inventories of MSDSs and labels for chemicals coming from different suppliers.

Silk, now a senior special fellow for the United Nations Institute for Training and Research on issues related to GHS, and the retired deputy director of OSHA's Directorate of Standards and Guidance, helped shepherd the United States' conversion to GHS. GHS, she claims, will make workplaces safer and have trade benefits for U.S. companies.

"The hazcom standard made [safety] jobs easier because industrial hygienists used to have to go on scavenger hunts to determine what chemicals were in use in the workplace. Now, they know," says Silk. The next logical step, with the globalization of so many businesses, is to create a global system of classification, she adds.


OSHA's Hazard Communication standard is designed to ensure that information about chemical hazards and associated protective measures is communicated to all who might handle the chemicals.

Implemented in 1983 and revised in 1987, the challenge of the Hazard Communication standard, says Silk, is standardization. "MSDSs come in different formats [and] there are various labels for chemicals," reports Silk. "GHS will provide workers and employers with consistent messages. GHS will facilitate standardized training and communication to workers about chemicals in the workplace."

GHS will place the biggest burden on chemical manufacturers, which will have to re-evaluate hazard determinations to include multiple categories in each class of health hazards, rather than noting--as now is the case with the hazcom standard--that a chemical simply meets the definition of a health hazard. …


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