Working Under the Globally Harmonized System: Is Your Lab Ready for Standardized Safety Data Sheets?

Chemical Regulations, Lab Safety

Standardized safety data sheets can help improve worker safety.
The U.S. Postal Service is able to deliver mail everywhere because of a standardized address code. Could standardized Safety Data Sheets help laboratory workers?
Image Source: Alexander Marks via Wikimedia Commons

In 2013, the U.S. Postal Service processed approximately 158.4 billion pieces of mail! Delivering this amount of mail takes effective organizational skills. For the U.S. Postal Service, the secret lies within the standardization of the postal code. The U.S. postal code system consists of a certain number of fields that must be put in an appropriate order: name, street, city, zip code etc. The amazing thing is that when placed in the right order, this standardized system of data is so simple and basic that it can be easily read by anyone.

Mail delivery isn’t the only area that benefits from a standardized system of organized fields. Another collection of documents that could benefit from standardization is chemical Safety Data Sheets.

Currently, chemicals are purchased from various suppliers and ultimately end up in the hands of people who need to know and understand how to handle them safely. Unfortunately, the bulk of the Safety Data Sheets that are supposed to convey this information are not standardized. The lack of standardization means that each vendor provides their own content and warning on each Safety Data Sheet in whatever format they want. If the U.S. Postal had a similar setup, mail would never end up in the right place.

In an attempt to standardize Safety Data Sheet content, OSHA announced in 2012 that the United States would adopt the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of chemical classification and labeling. Beginning June 1, 2015, chemical manufacturers and distributors are expected to begin producing GHS standardized Safety Data Sheets for all chemical products.

For laboratories, there are specific aspects that can be addressed right now to prepare for the GHS conversion, including the following:

  • Review Current Safety Data Sheets – When converting to the new classification system, it is best to start with the most recent Safety Data Sheets from manufacturers. Since approximately 33% of all sheets are revised each year, don’t be surprised to find that a third might be outdated. if necessary, request the most recent sheets from the manufacturer.
  • Establish Supplier Communication – Under GHS, suppliers will be responsible for updating raw material information as it changes within the chemical products. Whenever changes occur that affect the information included on a Safety Data Sheet, the vendor is expected to issue a new form. Since laboratories are responsible for making these forms available to employees, it is helpful to know when a sheet has changed. Regular and consistent communication with the supplier can ensure that the new sheets are kept up to date when changes occur. The best way to do this is to implement a chemical management system and automate the process. This ensures that the most recent Safety Data Sheets are always available to employees.
  • Develop Training Programs – Laboratories are responsible for not only informing employees of changes within the Safety Data Sheets, but also educating them on how the changes may affect their work. This should be accomplished by establishing regular training sessions that highlight changes and allowing employees to ask questions.
  • Print Labels – Under GHS, laboratory management will be responsible for printing and affixing the appropriate label to indicate the chemical contents of a given container. A chemical management system can also be useful during this process, as alerts can be set to help management follow up on potential changes in the Safety Data Sheet that might require label adjustments.

The goal of GHS is to create a standardized system so that anybody handling chemicals is able to quickly identify the risks and be able to respond appropriately, kind of like how mail handlers for the U.S.P.S. are able to determine where mail needs to be delivered. Implementation day is only a few months away. Will your laboratory be ready?

For more information on BIOVIA CISPro and how this chemical management system can help your laboratory address GHS adoption, please visit our website today.

5 thoughts on “Working Under the Globally Harmonized System: Is Your Lab Ready for Standardized Safety Data Sheets?

  1. I think this is a long time coming and has needed to be done for as long as I can think of. When I read a safety sheet I like to know right where to get the information that I need and I like to know what is going to be included. Sure, new sheets take some getting used to, but standardization will make it so much easier to work in the long run and after a year or two it will be like the old sheets never existed and we won’t know what to do without the standardized GHS sheets.

  2. Companies simply aren’t held up to a high enough standard of compliance. I’ve worked in numerous companies where these types of data sheets were out dated. Worst of all, they wouldn’t get rid of the old data sheets and they would mix in with the new ones, causing a lot of confusion.

  3. I think it was a good idea to phase this in gradually since in my lab, and I’m sure in others, we have a lot of relabeling to do to be in compliance with the new requirements. Once it’s all done though I definitely think the new labels will make everything easier and quicker to identify.

  4. Implementing a standardized system for Safety Data Sheets ensures that every person in the lab, regardless of title or length of employment, knows how to immediately assess the hazards of the chemicals they work with. This is a crucial step in creating a safer and more efficient workplace.

  5. Too often the safety data sheets are underutilized in the laboratory. A standardized system like a chemical management system could help people use them more.

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