GHS: A Necessary But Significant Change

Adoption of GHS by OSHA will affect HazCom compliance in significant ways. But experts say the change is necessary and will benefit U.S. businesses and workers.

Adoption of GHS by OSHA will trigger the need for considerable retraining, according to Bernard K. Russiello of RC2 Consulting in West Grove, Pennsylvania.

For example, instead of being able to write out hazards and protections in narrative form, GHS will require use of specific warning statements. The change will also require use of pictograms.

Using international diagrams can make communication easier and more consistent, but only if affected employees know and understand them. According to Russiello, American workers are less familiar with pictograms than workers in China and Japan.


Under GHS, it will also be necessary for manufacturers, employers, and others to reclassify the ingredients in their products and mixtures according to the universal categories.

This is a change from the past when the "1 percent rule" was widely applied. A substance present in a concentration of 1 percent or more was classified based on that hazard. GHS would require a more graduated, testing-based calculation that Russiello calls "less strict but more precise."

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Necessary Change

Like many experts, Russiello believes GHS is a change that needs to be made. Safety data sheets and labels will be less confusing and, as a result, workers will face less risk and better protection. Also, as developing nations come into compliance with GHS, some U.S. companies will feel more confident importing chemicals or products from those nations.

Despite the changes GHS will bring, the purpose and effect of HazCom will remain the same—to protect employees from chemical hazards.

The idea behind the HazCom standard is—and will remain—straightforward. It’s purpose is to ensure that employers and employees can:

  • Identify and understand hazardous chemical substances in their workplace
  • Identify the physical and health hazards associated with those chemicals
  • Know how to take effective protective action to prevent hazardous exposures

These goals will continue to be paramount under GHS.

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