Posts tagged ‘Environment Health and Safety’

Understanding OSHA’s Globally Harmonized Hazard Communication Standard

Mark Duvall

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.  

April 8, 2012 at 10:51 pm Leave a comment

What We Can Learn from Apple’s Foxconn Factory Audit

Bruce Klafter

Bruce Klafter

As most of us know by now, in February, 2012 the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a multi-stakeholder organization focused upon workers’ rights, inspected three large factories in China, where Foxconn assembles products on behalf of Apple, probably our country’s most iconic brand manufacturer.  The report that was issued is interesting reading and offers some lessons that any business would be wise to learn and apply:

  • Listen to your workers:  In the health and safety area, the FLA found that workers were alienated from safety and health committees, and had little confidence that management would address safety issues.  Keeping in mind that the scale in this case is unprecedented (i.e. FLA surveyed 35,000 employees out of the 179,000 working at these three locations!) the challenge of uncovering EHS issues is one that EHS professionals and management confront all the time.  It is virtually impossible to identify issues without the assistance of line workers, and workers will report issues only if they believe there will be no retaliation and that corrective action will follow.  In this instance, Foxconn has agreed to assure  the election of worker representatives without management interference, something that was lacking and that prevented open communication about EHS issues.
  • Compliance can be hard, but the alternatives are generally worse:  The principal problem that precipitated these audits and that FLA confirmed was widespread at Foxconn is noncompliance with Chinese law and voluntary code prescriptions for hours worked.  Chinese law limits work to 40 hours per work and 36 hours of overtime a month, meaning a workweek should generally be no more than 49 hours. Foxconn workers were found to regularly work 60 hours a week or more.  The causes of excessive working hours are manifold, including a desire on the part of workers to get as much overtime and compensation as possible, and the solutions are going to be extraordinarily difficult. Foxconn has pledged to comply with the law and to maintain compensation for its workforce, necessitating the hiring of tens of thousands of new workers.  Given the amount of bad press this situation has created for Foxconn and Apple, it is no wonder that many are calling this Apple’s “Nike moment”, meaning the moment where it has been forced to meaningfully confront poor working conditions in its supply chain.  Apple was by no means sitting idly by while these violations persisted, but it was unable to devise a solution even with knowledge of its existence – an alarming state of affairs for any manager.

The kinds of issues disclosed by the FLA report are unfortunately endemic in China and other parts of the world, and are by no means confined to Foxconn and Apple, or even to the electronics industry.  Hopefully the attention generated by the situation will create some positive momentum for lasting change.

What do you think about the potential impact of this situation? Has it provided an opportunity for renewed conversation about EHS in your company?

Bruce Klafter is head of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at Applied Materials, Inc., where he leads the effort to fulfill the company’s commitment to sustainability in the design and implementation of business strategies and worldwide operations.

April 2, 2012 at 5:13 pm Leave a comment

From Strong Relationships Comes Healthy EHS Culture

Stephen Evanoff

Stephen Evanoff

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?

March 22, 2012 at 2:16 pm 5 comments

Adding the Big “S” Doesn’t Always Make it Sustainable

Mark C. Coleman

Does it seem as if environmental, health, and safety (EHS) professionals are getting longer titles? In the past year I have participated in many conferences and workshops, including NAEM’s well-attended 2011 EHS Management Forum, “EHS & Sustainability Success in the New Economic Era” in Tucson last fall. Call it a qualitative trend, but more EHS professionals now have “Sustainability” as part of their professional title. This should come as no major surprise, particularly as companies, small and large, begin to formally address sustainability within their daily operations, strategic planning and management of their enterprise.

Sustainability is serious business and it is the new and in-vogue “big S” confronting stakeholder engagement, current affairs and future competitiveness of corporations. Understanding the business context of, and taking action on, sustainability, requires support and engagement from all corporate functions (i.e., C- suite, EHS, legal, marketing, HR, public affairs, finance, manufacturing, and so on). Corporations can gain or lose ground on the “big S” depending upon how they align internal resources and pursue sustainability as a business strategy.

While this is anecdotal, it seems as if more companies have added the “big S” of sustainability to their traditional EHS functions more rapidly in the past two years. This begs the questions: Are EHS organizations equipped and prepared to deliver upon the “big S”?, Is EHS the right corporate function to lead the “big S”?, Is the “big S” truly being addressed in the company, or is it simply an additional title to maintain appearances?

These questions are highly consequential, not only to the viability of addressing sustainability in a deliberate and strategic way, but also to the success of the EHS organization, and the long-term performance, reputation and impact of the corporation. Given the challenges of the global economic environment, and amid many internal-and-external stakeholder pressures, many organizations are facing resource and talent constraints in trying to address all issues or being all things to all people.  And, another responsibility, albeit a very ambiguous one at that in the “big S”, can tax those already-constrained resources.

So what to do? The following questions provide a framework for initiating critical thinking behind whether the “big S” should be part of your EHS organization, and to what degree your organization is prepared to assume responsibility for sustainability within your traditional EHS framework.

  • Strategic Orientation: Does your company have a sustainability strategy? How was the strategy initiated? Has the strategy been adopted? Who is responsible and accountable to ensuring the strategy is achieved? Have processes and metrics been established to monitor and measure the performance and impact of your strategy? How frequently is your sustainability performance reviewed? Is your sustainability strategy an integral part of your overall corporate strategy?
  • Current State of Affairs: What stage of development are your sustainability efforts within your corporation? Are there formal strategies, programs, processes and people dedicated to your sustainability efforts?
  • Accountability: Who is responsible and accountable for ensuring your sustainability strategy is enacted, measured and integrated throughout the company? What is the scope of influence of this individual? Do they have profit-and-loss responsibilities, or do they serve an enterprise service function? Is sustainability managed as a centralized, decentralized, or combination of both functions within your company?
  • Leadership and Governance: Has your senior management embraced sustainability as a strategic priority? Has your sustainability effort been reactionary to market, shareholder, stakeholder, customer needs or issues? Has the corporate board discussed sustainability? Has sustainability been integrated into corporate governance procedures, policies or documentation?
  • Engagement:  Have people, policies and practices been aligned toward a sustainability strategy within your company? How has this evolution occurred? Who has led the evolution of sustainability within your company?
  • Role of EHS: Is sustainability considered an extension or addition to the responsibilities within EHS? What role does or has EHS served in supporting sustainability within your company?
  • Integration: Has your company defined sustainability goals and strategy within the context of its people, corporate culture, business, products, history and business strategy? What internal functional groups have participated in the sustainability dialogue and evolution? What is the role of these groups going forward?
  • Enterprise Risk Management: Has your organization conducted risk mapping of emerging issues, internal and external stakeholder points-of-view and perceptions, and other factors that influence the sustainability context of your business?
  • Customized Pursuit of Growth and Innovation: Are your sustainability strategy and goals customized to your business, products and corporate context? Or are they a “drop-down menu” of disparate programs, metrics and goals that “seem” to be what every other company uses? Is sustainability viewed and pursued as an opportunity for risk management, innovation and corporate growth? Or is sustainability the “extra thing” on your full plate?

EHS organizations have a great deal to offer to the sustainability agenda for business, and can serve as the center of excellence to help bring corporate functions together, facilitate discussion and support strategic planning for sustainability. Benchmarking what is being done in other companies, including assessing best practices on business sustainability, is another service EHS organizations can conduct to provide immediate value to the corporation. Corporate EHS and sustainability programs are currently, and will continue to be, compared against each other as much as your product portfolio and financial performance is evaluated by external organizations.  Thus, benchmarking others programs can lead to greater understanding of how others are finding value in, and implementing sustainability, and can lead to a more strategic and purposeful advancement of the “big S” within your company.

Adding the “big S” to EHS titles needs to be a deliberate and strategic decision. And once that “S” is added, we need to be prepared to be accountable to the new title.  What do you think the relative opportunities and risks are of adding sustainability to the EHS function? Should any one department have responsibility for the “big S” or should it be attached to everyone’s job title?

Mark C. Coleman manages the Clean Energy Incubator (CEI) at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and is a Senior Program Manager for the Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies (CIMS) and the Golisano Institute for Sustainability (GIS). His first book, “The Sustainability Generation: The Politics of Change and Why Accountability is Essential NOW” will be published in September 2012.

March 19, 2012 at 1:08 pm 1 comment

Why You Should Attend NAEM’s EHS Management Forum

Thinking about attending or exhibiting at NAEM’s annual EHS Management Forum? Hear from some of last year’s attendees about why it’s worth the trip.

March 16, 2012 at 5:40 pm Leave a comment

Emerging Leaders Series: Setting the Next Generation of Sustainability Targets

Margo Mosher

As a graduate student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies my days are filled with classes, reading assignments and group projects. With all the school work, it’s not always easy to get out and learn directly from those who put the theory into practice every day. Fortunately, my Business and the Environment Consulting Clinic this semester has allowed me to do just that, taking me out of the classroom and into the corporate offices of Diageo, a leading premium drinks business.

As part of this course, Diageo’s Global Environmental Manager, Roberta Barbieri, has asked two colleagues and me to help research what the next generation of environmental sustainability goals for the industry might look like. Like many businesses, Diageo has set impressive 2015 environmental sustainability targets around carbon, water and waste, and has made great progress toward reaching them.

Most of these targets relate to the company’s direct operations. As stakeholders continue to demand greater transparency, however, leadership companies are beginning to establish targets for environmental issues from across the value chain. Diageo is one of these companies and wants to ensure that its programs aim to meet these expectations.

To support Diageo in this area, my colleagues and I are benchmarking Diageo’s current environmental targets and analyzing those of other companies in the food, beverage and retail sectors. To learn about other innovative ways to set targets and future sustainability trends we also spoke to corporate sustainability experts from NGOs, consulting firms and academia.

Our project deliverable will be an analysis of industry-leading environmental targets for the beverage supply chain. Throughout my research process I have wondered how other companies go about setting sustainability targets. After meeting some of NAEM’s members at the Forum in Tucson this past fall, I know that many of you are experts in corporate sustainability. You may also be responsible for setting your company’s environmental targets, so I thought I would pose some questions to you all that I’ve been thinking about:

  • Do most companies conduct a risk assessment or materiality analysis to discern which environmental areas are most critical for target setting?
  • What matters most when it comes to environmental sustainability targets: The feasibility of the target? The reputational benefit the target may bring? The environmental benefit the target spurs? The cost savings a target could help bring about?
  • Does partnering with an NGO help a company develop stronger targets and metrics?
  • Are absolute targets always better than relative ones?

Margo Mosher is a graduate student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, where she is pursuing a Masters of Environmental Management. She is focusing her studies on corporate sustainability and will be graduating in May 2012. Prior to attending Yale, she taught urban ecology field studies in Boston as part of the AmeriCorps VISTA program. She is a member of NAEM’s Emerging Leaders group.

March 12, 2012 at 5:00 pm 3 comments

Measuring Change (and what Frank Zappa would say about it)

Walt Rostykus

Walt Rostykus

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.

March 9, 2012 at 3:52 pm Leave a comment

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