Workplace Solutions Chemical safety

GHS chemical labeling requirements

The chemicals I ordered over a year ago that are still on the shelf … do I need to re-label them?

Brady WS
Photo: Brady

Responding is Tom Smith, product manager for Brady, Milwaukee.

OSHA’s final Hazard Communication Standard deadline around the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals is quickly approaching. That means all customers must be fully compliant with the requirements, including those for Safety Data Sheets and chemical container labels, by June 1 of this year. Because of this deadline, many chemical users need to resolve detailed implementation issues that often get overlooked in GHS presentations or summaries.

One of these situations is determining how to handle the chemicals that have been ordered prior to the past year that are still on your shelves. Do you need to re-label these older chemicals?

To answer this question, you first need to determine if you have chemicals on your shelves without GHS labels. Under GHS, OSHA required all chemical manufacturers to begin shipping their chemicals with compliant labels by June 1, 2015. OSHA also provided distributors with an additional six months (up to Dec. 1, 2015) to make sure their inventories were updated and they were shipping chemicals with compliant labels. With this in mind, it’s entirely possible you may have ordered a chemical from your distributor before December of last year and received containers that have the previously used “right-to-know” or NFPA diamond labels.

Once you determine if you have older chemical containers without GHS labels in your facility, the next step is deciding whether you need to re-label them. The good news is that OSHA provides some guidance on this issue, explaining that “employers are not responsible for updating labels on shipped containers, even if the shipped containers are labeled under HazCom 1994.”

Although you’re not responsible for updating older labels, you do have a responsibility when it comes to damaged labels or undisclosed hazards. OSHA explains that “the employer must re-label items if the labels are removed or defaced. However, if the employer is aware of newly identified hazards that are not disclosed on the label, the employer must ensure that the workers are aware of the hazards as discussed below under workplace labels.”

What might those additional hazards that aren’t disclosed on the label be? NFPA 704 does not address hazards such as carcinogens (cancer causing) or mutagens (causing birth or genetic defects in the unborn child). However, the OSHA 2012 HazCom/GHS regulation does consider those hazards. Therefore, if you have an existing chemical that you know is a carcinogen, you also have to indicate that hazard and appropriate precautions on your label.

As with most regulations, the details are the key to understanding the appropriate actions to take. When it comes to employee safety, particularly with a new regulation, taking the conservative route with over-communication and thorough training is the ideal option. While you’re not required to re-label older chemicals, be sure the presence of the differing labels is made clear to employees to ensure they are safely handling all containers in your facility. As the full GHS implementation takes effect, these older containers will eventually be circulated out with future chemical orders and GHS-compliant labels will be used consistently.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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