The Last Deadline
The Last Deadline

OSHA’s adoption of the Globally Harmonized System for the classification and labeling of chemicals in the workplace (GHS) was implemented in several phases beginning in 2013, and its last deadline falls on June 1, 2016. The effects were immense for those who manufacture, transport, and handle chemicals, and of course it affected laboratories everywhere. There were a few hard questions that arose along the way, and OSHA has done its best to handle the majority of the, but as one would expect with a subject so broad, a few issues still remain.

Chemical container labeling is a topic that has caused much confusion in the past couple of years. With so much attention focused on the new labeling elements of primary containers, the issue of secondary container labeling seemed overlooked. The GHS hazard ratings were new to the United States, and they ran exactly opposite of NFPA and HMIS hazard warnings- systems that had been in place for chemical labeling for years. Fortunately, the updated Hazard Communication standard did not require placing GHS hazard ratings on chemical labels- there were already plenty of hazard indicators including pictograms, signal words, and precautionary statements. Because of this, it was clearly determined that labs would be allowed to continue to use NFPA or HMIS label conventions for secondary chemical containers after June 1 of this year. They would, of course, also have the option to use GHS labels as well, and some manufacturers provide those labels and pre-labeled containers for labs.

A second and more controversial issue involved the interpretation of the standard to determine what primary chemical containers should be in the lab after the final deadline. Should older chemicals that do not have GHS-compliant labels be removed from the lab by that date? The answer is yes, and though it may not be completely clear in the standard, if you follow the path through the GHS implementation steps, it may become clearer.

Chemical manufacturers had until June of 2015 to stop creating containers with non-compliant labels, and OSHA gave them six months to ship out that old inventory to customers. That meant that labs could potentially receive non-compliant labels through December of 2015. OSHA placed the last implementation deadline on June of 2016- that also gave labs six months to use up those chemicals that had out-dated labels, even those received as late as December of 2015. The last deadline states that employers must “update alternative workplace labeling and hazard communication program as necessary…” The final Hazard Communication rule states: “The phase-in period for the revisions to the HCS provides adequate time for firms to deplete products in inventory that are not labeled with GHS-compliant labels and to replace workplace containers or signs/permanent labels (such as regulated area signs) in the course of the normal cycle for wear-and-tear replacement.” That pretty clearly says that labs should not have older chemical labels on site after June 1.

So how do you get rid of these chemicals? You may not re-label a primary chemical container- OSHA forbids that. One method may be disposal. Have the chemicals removed by your contracted waste hauler. If you have smaller amounts of a chemical, it is possible to transfer it to a secondary container and label it properly.

Certainly other elements of the last implementation deadline are easier to handle. Safety Data Sheets, paper or electronic need to be updated to the new standardized 16-section format. Any posted formaldehyde warning signs need updated wording, and other chemical hazard warning signage should be up to date.

Hopefully your lab has been working on this topic for the past three years or so, and you are ready for this one last deadline. If not, you are not alone. Many labs have not done much work to prepare, and there are chemical manufacturers who have struggled to comply with the imposed changes and dates. OSHA is not unforgiving, however. If they can see that an organization is working diligently to implement the changes, they may grant some flexibility for the employer to complete the changes. Moving forward, your lab will completely comply with the updated Hazard Communication standard, and the uniform labeling and warning conventions will enable you to continue to operate safely in the laboratory.

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