GHS: A Refresher

As the first major US deadline for the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling approaches, people are starting to ask the basic questions all over again. And fair enough. Top question?

“Remind me, what’s the difference between OSHA’s previous HazCom standard and the new one (for GHS)?

The new HazCom Standard is written as a modification to the existing standard. The parts of the standard that do not relate to the GHS, or that are already consistent with it, are unchanged. Accordingly, some terms have also been updated. We are no longer going to “assess” so much as we are going to “classify” (see image below). And “material safety data sheet” has been changed to the simpler, “safety data sheet.”

Changes in purpose of the HCS, this is also interesting:

For more, see a comparison of the entire document online, line by line. But this primer should remind you. And key deadlines for the new GHS?  Coming soon in a separate blog post. For 2013 what we need to pay attention to is this one:

And what does “training” mean, exactly?

The GHS states in Chapter 1.4, Section1.4.9, the importance of training all target audiences to recognize and interpret label and/or SDS information — and to take appropriate action in response to chemical hazards. Training requirements should be “appropriate for and commensurate with the nature of the work or exposure.”

Key target audiences include workers, emergency responders and also those responsible for developing labels and SDSs. To varying degrees, the training needs of additional target audiences have to be addressed. These should include training for persons involved in transport and strategies required for educating consumers in interpreting label information on products that they use.

Here is a helpful brochure summarizing what your employees need to know/be competent in by November 30, 2013:

If you’re curious about technology that can help you comply, consider the award-winning SDS Vault program. (Award information is rolled into a dynamic case study with the manufacturer of Behr paints.)

OSHA’s Public Cadmium Poisoning Assessment Tool

As of today, January 2, 2013, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is withdrawing the final Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Rule that was issued on December 3, 2012 regarding cadmium. The rule being withdrawn would have required some manufacturers of consumer goods containing cadmium to report on health and safety data to EPA. 

In an unrelated move but worth mentioning, some factions of the U.S. government (led by OSHA*) have developed and made available a tool for cadmium poisoning mitigation. The idea is that you interview someone who may have been dangerously exposed to cadmium. You enter their answers into the tool, called the OSHA Cadmium Biological Monitoring Advisor.

The data you enter, simple answers to simple questions, is rationalized, then crunched against known data points and thresholds for cadmium exposures of various types. Instructions for quickly and rightly mitigating any toxicity related damage are provided instantly.

Technically, the tool exists to address the federal monitoring and surveillance requirements of the general industry Cadmium Standard (summary can be found here). But if you feel you or an employee may have been overexposed to cadmium, read on.

The OSHA Cadmium Biological Monitoring Advisor. The tools works by prompting the user with key questions and relying on data from biological monitoring tests to determine an appropriate course of action. This Advisor analyzes biological monitoring lab results for currently exposed workers. It determines the biological monitoring and medical surveillance requirements of the general industry Cadmium Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1027, applicable to those results.

Technically, the tool is designed for experienced medical professionals, but it is also available to workers and the general public. There’s no requirement for using the OSHA Cadmium Biological Monitoring Advisor. The results presented by the tool are, obviously, critically dependent upon the accuracy of the input data.

If you have any questions or concerns, OSHA asks that you contact them directly or find the advice of an expert.

There are subtleties to the restrictions around industries regarding cadmium exposure. For instance:
For general industry, an employer has 30 days to reassess the employee’s occupational exposure to cadmium. For the construction industry, there’s no time limit to reassess occupational exposure. (The logic of this escapes me, perhaps someone can clarify in the comments section.)

Similar rule notes can be found here: a few subtleties.

Cadmium poisoning sites and signs.  In its elemental form, cadmium is either a blue-white metal or a grayish-white powder found in lead, copper, and zinc sulfide ores. However, most cadmium compounds are highly colored from brown to yellow and red. Cadmium’s uses vary from an electrode component in alkaline batteries to a stabilizer in plastics.

OSHA estimates that approximately 70,000 employees in the US construction industry are potentially exposed to cadmium. Specifically, OSHA asks employers to establish regulated areas whenever the following construction activities are conducted:

  1. Electrical grounding with cadmium welding
  2. Cutting, brazing, burning, grinding, or welding on surfaces that are painted with cadmium-containing paints
  3. Electrical work using cadmium-coated conduits
  4. Using cadmium-containing paints
  5. Cutting and welding cadmium-plated steel
  6. Brazing or welding with cadmium alloys
  7. Fusing of reinforced steel by cadmium welding
  8. Maintaining or retrofitting cadmium-coated equipment
  9. Wrecking and demolishing where cadmium is present

Symptoms of cadmium poisoning are listed here.

Start using the tool here: OSHA Cadmium Advisor.* Groups who made the Advisor Tool available: Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the Department of Labor (OSHA), along with the Office of the Solicitor of Labor (Who?) and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Policy (OASP)

GHS: Gobs in the details

I recently attended a Environmental themed conference.  Nearly 5000 professionals in Environmental, Health and Safety were there.  I saw many things at the show, but nothing surprised me more than seeing standing room only — and a line out the door — for one event.

What was it?  It was a talk on GHS, the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and labeling of chemicals.  I mean — it was a general talk.  Just a lay-of-the-land kind of talk.

Now, call me crazy, but I had to pull a high-level EHS association official aside and ask, “Really — are people really that confused about GHS?  You add a couple of sections onto the MSDS and use slightly different pictograms. Why all the commotion?”

The official nodded slightly as if she understood the question. She said it was true that most companies may have a GHS solution built in with their current MSDS management system. But then she explained why there were lines out the door for general GHS information.  So for those who — like me — are puzzled by the fuss over GHS, this one’s for you.

Understanding the new GHS.  To help understand the fuss about the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) newly final Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), it’s important to realize that this rule is OSHA’s most comprehensive rulemaking in a decade.  Of this I was reminded.

The updated HCS impact affects over five million businesses.  These are manufacturers, and to some extent distributors, that use or store chemicals. Plus, the new HCS affects almost 100,000 chemical manufacturers, importers, and distributors.

Because the new rule is a major revision of the HCS, OSHA is requiring employers to train all employees on the new rules. Training is expected to impose the bulk of the cost burdens on US businesses.

Software for GHS won’t be much different from the current MSDS vault type programs companies use today.  So training there should not be required, except for label making differences. Outsourced and SaaS solutions pose few training challenges — because these can be adjusted anytime, in real time. (SaaS is like the cloud — but believed to be more secure.)

But if you don’t outsource MSDS and GHS already — now is a good time to start.  Rather than accrue costs while piece-mealing SDS responsibilities under REACH, OSHA and now, effectively, GHS — some companies have found value in investing in a centralized, comprehensive, outsourced solution.

Billions of dollars at stake.  While the big-picture changes aren’t so scary, the details of it will get cumbersome. Largely the folks lining up at conferences to learn more are the consultants. They have to know everything, in theory.  There’s a lot of money at stake.

The new GHS introduces a set of criteria for classifying human health and physical hazards while identifying OSHA-defined hazards. It requires that companies classify substances and/or products to ensure the appropriate classifications are assigned. Chemical data and labels will often need revision — perhaps significantly — to conform to new document requirements as they emerge.

Achieving and maintaining compliance will be a complex and time-consuming undertaking for many companies. I’ve heard OSHA officials use the word “billions” when discussing total costs. (As soon as I can lock down a quotable source, you’ll hear about it here.)

Who’s attending “about GHS” forums?  Attending is anyone who has an eye on the money, basically.  No, that’s not fair.  Also attending are folks really trying to learn as much as they can. Groups and their motivations include:

  1. Industry professionals seeking to understand / react to implications of the new HCS rule, so they can competently and strategically manage resources, budget, training, and compliance
  2. Leading regulatory compliance experts and industry representatives who provide strategic advice to a broad spectrum of industry clients relative to regulatory standards, rule-making, and compliance.
  3. Journalists trying to distill key insights and analysis of the OSHA HCS adopting GHS
  4. Folks seeking discussions the multiple impacts, risk factors and estimated costs to be incurred by employers and manufacturers
  5. Individuals looking to refine and discuss definitions for “substance,” “mixture,” and hazard “classification,” among other critically important new terms
  6. Executives analysing strategic planning considerations and potential compliance/risk exposures

Audience by professional role?  Well, look out, here comes everybody:

  1. Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) Managers
  2. Product Marketing/Safety/Packaging & Labeling Professionals
  3. Human Resource Managers
  4. Fire Services Professionals
  5. International Marketing Professionals
  6. Compliance and Training Staff
  7. Environmental and Process Engineers
  8. Engineering and Plant Services Professionals
  9. Facility/Energy Planning Professionals
  10. Environmental Compliance and Reporting Management
  11. Monitoring/Environmental Resource Managers
  12. Environmental Health and Safety Management
  13. Production/Operations/Engineering/Environmental Management
  14. Environmental Consultants and Attorneys
  15. Environmental Risk Management Professionals
  16. Environmental/Corporate Counsel SVP/VP/Director
  17. SVP Finance/Engineering/Operations Management
  18. Power Plant Chief/Supervisor/Managers
  19. Physical Plant/Facility Management

If the question you ask yourself is, “Is this much ado about nothing?” then you’re probably all set.  If you really do have questions about GHS solutions, sign up for a seminar or webinar soon, before it’s too late! I say that and am not even promoting such a thing.  Just don’t get left out in the corridor like I did:  people are hot on this trail right now and it’s standing room only.

Cheers, and, as always, happy compliance.

Should Whistleblowers Get Leave With Pay?

Nobody likes a tattletale, a gossip or a rat. You can lose the trust and respect of your co-workers pretty quickly by stepping out of line that way.

With that in mind, it’s highly unlikely that the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) revision and overhaul of its “whistleblower” program will affect much.  The effort did purge some backlog and, yes, it does aspire to make the process of reporting a safety fail quicker and easier going forward.

But there’s still one elephant in the room.

Why workers don’t report safety issues. What I’ve never heard anyone say about whistleblowing is something so basic that I wonder if rulemakers miss it.

The fact is that most workers today live paycheck-to-paycheck, or very close. And if their section of the manufacturing, construction or mining project is shut down while a reported safety issue is inspected or fixed, there is no paycheck coming in. A project suspension or furlough is a pay freeze. Not just for the person who reported the safety breach, but for coworkers. Who wants to be responsible for family, friends and neighbors losing their income?

For most of American workers, work is about making sure there’s food on the table each week for the family. After food and water, there are clothes, medical bills, educational expenses, plus payments to banks a la my own well-documented pet peeve: the incomprehensible DEBT that a typical working family carries in this country (mortgage and auto), plus mandatory miscellaneous payments (insurance and alimony) that must be honored each month.

That’s a lot to risk just to report a potential safety issue.

There are also well-documented issues on the importance of respect and community in the workplace; and whistleblowers typically aren’t the most welcome folks on campus after the fact. But what do you stand to gain by reporting a safety fail? Maybe it gets fixed, maybe not. And what do you stand to lose? Everything.

A recent Food & Drug Administration law takes strides to protect whistleblowers, and now OSHA is doing same, but without a salary protection plan these measures won’t inspire workers to feel more confident about reporting safety breaches.

Good effort.  But missing the mark.