Posts tagged ‘Environment Health and Safety’
On March 26, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published its updated Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). The new rule, which applies to all hazardous chemicals, has been harmonized the Global Harmonization System (GHS) and will affect all companies that make, transport or use hazardous materials. Mark Duvall, Principal at Beveridge & Diamond P.C., has been following the HCS since it was a proposal in the early 1980s. We caught up with him this week to learn more about the updated rule and to understand its potential impact.
What’s the genesis of this latest HCS update?
OSHA adopted the HCS in 1983 and since then they’ve made a number of adjustments to it. They made the latest round of changes for two reasons. The first is because the GHS is out there and the United States wants to harmonize its hazardous communications with those of other countries for the promotion of international trade. The second is that the agency believed that GHS would represent a clear improvement in the hazardous communication standard and thus help protect employee safety.
What is the GHS?
In 1992 the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development issued a mandate to develop a globally harmonized chemical classification and labeling system. It adopted the GHS in 2003. The standard was intended to create a common system for hazard communications. At the time, the lack of consistency across countries was a burden to international trade.
The GHS applies to hazardous chemicals. It doesn’t apply to articles, or products that have a fixed shape, which are not intended to release a chemical. There are also exemptions for certain kinds of chemicals that are subject to detailed regulation in specialized areas. So drugs, toy additives and pesticide residues in food ‘at the point of intake’ are not covered by GHS. It does, however, apply to worker exposure and transportation of drugs, food additives and pesticide residues in food.
It’s important to note that the GHS is a hazard-based system designed for trade; it’s not a risk-based system. Each company in the supply chain must consider its own risk and exposure conditions and decide on risk abatement measures.
How does OSHA’s rule compare to the GHS?
Let’s begin by talking about the three main elements to the GHS:
1. The classification system: The GHS has identified physical hazards, chemical hazards and environmental hazards, and classified them by defining them and defining different categories within each hazard class with objective criteria. Once a classification for a chemical component has been determined, you then need to classify the mixture to which it belongs. Under the old OSHA standard, there was a pretty simple rule for determining the hazards of a mixture. The mixture was determined to have all the health hazards present if they had it at .1 percent or greater, with no regard to dilution. And that ran into a problem with acute toxicity for example if you took something that was acutely toxic at 100 percent and dilute it down to 5 percent, it might not qualify as acutely toxic anymore. What GHS does is it provides guidance on how to calculate the hazards of a mixture depending on the particular hazard categories of the various components and their proportions in the mixture. And there are different approaches for different kinds of hazards. It’s more complicated, but it’s generally regarded as a more accurate system than the old OSHA system.
2. Labeling: Under the GHS there are multiple things that must appear on the label: the product name, the company’s name address and phone number, the standardized hazard statement, a pictogram and a precautionary statement. Under the old OSHA standard, you could express a hazard using any statement you wanted. Under GHS, there is a prescribed hazard statement assigned to each hazard category. There’s also a requirement for a pictogram, or a symbol conveying a visual idea of the hazard. A precautionary statement is what you should do in response to this hazard information (e.g. first aid instructions, personal protective equipment). And finally, there’s a requirement for a signal word. One is ‘Danger,’ the other is ‘Caution’. This is all different from the old OSHA rule, which required only the name and address, the name of the product and “appropriate hazard warnings” (which led to very different descriptions of the hazards for the same product).
3. Safety Data Sheets: A safety data sheet is a written compilation of information about the hazards of that product. In industrial chemicals, there is a list of data elements that have to show up. Under the old OSHA standard there was no required format for that. Now, under GHS and now under OSHA, there’s a prescribed format for the disclosure on the safety data sheets. GHS does not use the term ‘material safety data sheet’, and OSHA is adopting that language so MSDSs will now be called Safety Data Sheets (SDS). There’s a standard format and there’s also specific information that has to be included in each section.
What are some of the differences between the GHS and the updated HCS?
OSHA has not completely taken GHS. There’s a whole set of environmental hazards that are classified in GHS, which are not included in the new OSHA rule because the agency doesn’t have statutory jurisdiction. However, OSHA does require companies to include the section heading for environmental hazards; the hope is to encourage voluntarily disclosure of that information.
OSHA also adds some requirements that focus on the workplace where chemicals are present and where there is exposure potential. It requires training, it requires a written hazard communication program and it requires labeling of containers and chemicals in the workplace. Because GHS focuses on trade, it doesn’t really address the occupational exposure aspect.
The OSHA rule also differs from GHS in its classification requirements. Under the old OSHA standard, you simply had to indicate that something was acutely toxic. Now, under the harmonized rule have to classify the hazard of acute toxicity and put it into one of several buckets. Rather than adopt all five GHS categories, OSHA omitted the lowest toxicity level because it concluded that it wasn’t appropriate to in a worker protection context.
When does the new OSHA rule go into effect?
The rule goes into effect on May 25, 2012 but compliance will take place in stages:
- Dec. 1, 2013: Deadline for training employees on the new label elements. Companies will start transitioning to GHS and they need to train employees to understand the new label warnings, particularly the pictograms.
- June 1, 2015: Classification, labeling and the SDS requirements. This is the same date that the European version of the GHS goes fully into effect. Distributors, however, may continue to ship products with the old labels until December 1, 2015.
- June 1, 2016: The other workplace requirements take effect. These include requirements for hazard communication program and training on newly identified hazards. Between now and then, companies can comply with old rule, new rule or with both.
Mark Duvall is a Principal with Beveridge & Diamond, P.C. in Washington, DC, where he heads the law firm’s chemicals practice, as well as its FDA and OSHA practices. He will share his advice during NAEM’s upcoming webinar, “Preparing for the OSHA’s Globally Harmonized Hazard Communication Standard” on April 24.
At a February meeting of my company’s environment, health and safety (EHS) leaders, a guest speaker reminded the group how important relationships are in effective EHS management. The following day, I picked up the Feb. 20, 2012, issue of Time magazine that featured a cover article on the science of animal friendships.
I’m certainly not suggesting that animal friendships can teach us how to develop effective workplace EHS relationships, but these two incidents did remind me how the relationships we build as EHS managers directly impact the organization’s EHS culture. Here are a few of my observations on relationship-building principles that have worked to strengthen EHS culture in organizations:
- Emphasizing the team over the individual: This applies to EHS programs, projects involving cross-functional teams, safety committees, awards, and just about everything else within an EHS context except, perhaps,filling out regulatory agency required reports. The fact is that the EHS function can accomplish almost nothing on its own. Without interdepartmental relationships founded on trust, the EHS role can be lonely and frustrating.
- Acting as an enabler: Before approaching a person or team of people with an EHS issue, answer the questions: “What’s in it for each of them? And how can I help?” This exercise will start you down the path toward a consensus-based solution and help you develop an enabler’s mindset.
- Validating the other person’s perspective: When business leaders and core business process owners feel that the EHS people are cognizant of the demands of their jobs, understand the pressures they face and are aligned with the overall goals of the enterprise, they will be more receptive to EHS initiated projects, and more likely to include the EHS function in decision-making.
- Standing for what’s right: EHS managers who consistently act in the best, long-term interest of the organization (rather than doing what’s expedient, politically advantageous, or in the near-term interest of the EHS function) will, over time, build credibility and respect. These are characteristics of healthy EHS working relationships.
I am sure there are other important principles to relationship-building. What other principles or relationship-building experiences have had a significant impact on EHS culture in your organization?
Early in my scuba diving days I learned a critical lesson about measuring progress. While diving in the dark, cold, and fast moving waters of the Pacific Northwest, I learned not to trust just what I saw, but also what was measured.
Watching the gauge for depth and compass for direction was essential for ensuring we were moving in the right direction and at the correct pace and depth to reach our objective. This practice of checking gauges (measures) and comparing the two points of (1) where you were and (2) where you are now, to verify progress and direction, has served me well on road trips, while hiking in the back country and in managing environment, health and safety (EHS) processes. Comparing metrics to verify improvement is a critical element of any environment or safety management system. But I am still amazed at how many organizations do not apply this practice to individual workplace improvements as part of their safety and ergonomics improvement process.
Milton Friedman, American Economist and Nobel Prize Winner, stated it clearly: “The only relevant test of the validity of a hypothesis is comparison of prediction with experience.” This simple act of comparing two points of data to validate change is a core element of EHS management system and continuous improvement process.
During Humantech’s recent benchmarking study of ergonomics program/process management, we explored if and how organizations verify the effectiveness of workplace changes and improvements. We found that:
- Only 59 percent conducted formal follow-up assessments (reassessments) using the same risk assessment tool used in the initial “ergonomic” assessment. Of these,
- 80 percent used quantitative assessment methods, allowing them to compare “before” and “after” scores to verify that the improvement reduced the level of risk. These were predominately programs in the ‘proactive’ and ‘advanced’ levels of maturity.
- 41 percent interview or survey employees as their only or a supplementary method. These were predominately programs in the ‘reactive’ level of maturity.
- 23 percent use a lagging or activity-based method. These included tracking reduction of injury and reviewing project improvement records.
- 18 percent of participants do not conduct follow-up assessments.
The benchmarking study looked at the level of maturity and effectiveness of each ergonomics process and found that all of the highest performers included comparison of before and after metrics at both the program (strategic) level, and at the tactical (workplace improvement) level.
Frank Zappa summarized it well when he said, “Without deviation, progress is not possible.”
I’d appreciate hearing from you about your experience and methods for validating improvement of EHS and/or ergonomics programs and conditions.
- Do you compare before and after, or trust that change happens?
- Are you confident of the direction and magnitude of change?
- How do you measure change? By activity or results? With lagging or leading indicators?
- What challenges have you encountered?
- What best practices have you learned?
Walt Rostykus is a vice president and consultant with Humantech Inc., a consulting firm that combines the science of ergonomics with their unique 30-Inch View® – where people, work, and environment intersect–to deliver practical solutions that impact safety, quality, and productivity. When he is not travelling for work, Walt resides in New Mexico enjoying the great outdoors.