Ready or Not: Is Your Lab’s Hazard Communication System Affected by the GHS Compliance Deadline?

hazard communication standard
The impending GHS compliance deadline will bring changes to SDSs used by hazardous chemical manufacturers and suppliers. What do the changes mean for laboratories?
Image source: Flickr CC user USFWS – Pacific Region

In 2012, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) passed guidelines that would align its Hazard Communication Standard with the UN’s Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. The new standard requires manufacturers, distributors and other companies handling hazardous chemicals to replace their existing material safety data sheets (MSDS) with the new safety data sheets (SDS). Under the old system, there are a number of MSDS formats currently used by U.S. firms. With the new system, all companies would adopt a single uniform 16-section format.

According to the compliance schedule set forth by OSHA, a major deadline rapidly approaches. On June 1, raw suppliers must provide new SDSs to downstream users for the hazardous chemicals they manufacture or import. Considering the chemical inventory found in many laboratories, obtaining the newly formatted SDSs can be a daunting task. A chemical management system, however, can make the transition easier.

Clear Out Old Inventory

While chemical manufacturers and importers must switch to the new SDS format by June 1, distributors can ship inventory with the older labels until December 1. In addition, downstream users will not be cited for non-compliance provided they have shown good faith attempts to obtain SDSs in the new format.

But armed with these dates, compliance shouldn’t be difficult. A chemical management system allows you to track chemical inventory by using barcodes. With a simple scan, you can determine when a specific chemical entered your laboratory. Chemicals received before June 1 will probably still be using the older hazard communication standard format. On the other hand, chemicals received after December 1 should have the new GHS manufacturer label because distributors need to have cleared out their old inventory by then.

Laboratories can follow the example set forth for distributors. Use your older chemical inventory first. Speaking from experience, many laboratories often have duplicate chemicals in their inventory due to factors such as different people responsible for ordering and misplaced containers.

Obtain New Safety Data Sheets

The deadlines also inform us when it’s reasonable to obtain new SDSs. Because distributors can still ship chemicals using the previous system until December 1, there is a six-month period in which downstream users may not receive the updated safety information.

With a chemical management system, however, laboratories can be proactive and update their safety information easily. Because it tracks when inventory was received, lab workers will know if a chemical arrived during this six-month transition period. They can directly contact the manufacturer for the new SDS and replace the outdated one received with the affected chemical. Because the system is digital, this also eliminates the onerous task of updating paper binders. It takes a lot of time to flip through a binder to confirm whether it’s the latest version of an SDS. Laboratory employees are busy people whose efforts should be put to more productive use like research and analysis.

Ensure Employee Safety Awareness

The new guidelines also require that companies make the new SDSs readily available to all employees by the June 1 deadline. In laboratories that have yet to adopt a digital system, paper binders containing this information can prove inefficient. New employees may not know where the safety binders are stored. Even worse, they may be kept in a room that’s inaccessible by the majority of people. It’s not very helpful to keep this information away from the lab bench where these chemicals will be used. Unfortunately, that’s often the case. After all, you don’t want to spill chemicals all over that paper binder you spent so much time putting together and updating.

But with a digital chemical management system, employees can access safety information via the cloud. There’s no need to look for dusty binders. Nor will they have to interrupt their lab manager’s day because the information is kept in their office. They can simply look up the chemical they plan to use, access the SDS and follow the necessary steps to ensure safe use.

While aligning your old hazard communication standard to GHS seems arduous, there are tools available to make the transition as painless as possible. A chemical management system like BIOVIA CISPro can ease adoption of the new system. Visit our website today to learn more.

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