29 CFR 1910.1200, the Globally Harmonized System (GHS), and the Chemical Industry

oshaWhen the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) revised the United States Hazard Communication Law (Ref: US 29 CFR 1910.1200) in May of 2012, it set off an avalanche of change in the Environmental, Health, and Safety (EH&S) circles of American industry.  Virtually every manufacturing and service industry will be involved in one aspect or another of adapting their existing hazard communication system to the new GHS based system for the classification and communication of chemical hazards. While virtually all industrial entities will be affected by the new standard, the segment of industry that appears to be set to experience the burden is the chemical manufacturing segment, with its close cousin petrochemical refining coming in a close second.

The single greatest challenge facing users of the new system is the classification of chemicals into one of the designated hazard categories.  Fortunately for most general industry users, this aspect is taken care of “above their paygrade” by distributors, importers, and manufacturers of the chemicals that they use.  Such General Industry users are only required to reclassify their chemicals from the classification originally set forth by the above noted entities if and only if the user modifies the chemicals to such a degree that they have a reasonable expectation that the hazards attendant to the product have changed from those originally designated.  While not an unheard of circumstance, it is nevertheless a relatively rare one.

While distributors and/or importers of chemicals may have some role to play as well and indeed are so designated, this nevertheless leaves the bulk of classification requirements in the hands of the manufacturer.  By the nature of their operations, manufacturers possess adequate staff of sufficient technical expertise to safely create the chemicals that they market.  Luckily, such staff usually also includes the resources now required to ensure proper classification according to the GHS based HCS.

The previous version of the HCS law did not specify hazard classification as one of the required outcomes of the manufacturing process.  However, the obvious requirement to transport the chemical beyond its point of manufacture did subject the product to the classification requirements specified for safe transport, regulated in the United States under the rules contained in the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) governed US 49 CFR Parts 100-185.  The classification derived in the transportation rule will generally be extremely similar to that derived from use of the rules in the 29 CFR 1910.1200.  However, classifiers of chemicals under the US 49 CFR cannot rely solely on this classification.  The HCS requires a substantially closer evaluation of the specific physical properties of the chemical in order to determine which of the physical and/or health hazards prescribed under the HCS the chemical is qualified to be listed under (Ref 29 CFR 1910.1200(d)(1)).  While this does introduce a somewhat more onerous evaluation process for the manufacturer, there is attendant good news.

Previous to the issuance of the new rule, classification and its close cousin, hazard evaluation, were left somewhat murky.  While this may have made the task of answering to the letter of the law perhaps somewhat easier, the downside factor was the attendant liability risk involved.  In the event of accident or incident, it relied on and thus left open to question the specific expertise of the classifier and evaluator, thus exposing the manufacturer to the risk that such expertise (and attendant due diligence) might be (legally) determined as inadequate.

The new rule solves this issue by setting forth very specific guidance which must be followed to classify chemical hazards as well as to assign specific warnings and precautions to the hazard communication data assigned to them.  Tabular data are used to determine actual ranges of performance (for instance, flash and boiling points for flammable liquids, specific levels of inflicted damage for corrosives, and so on for the substance(s) in question, which are then assigned the category and level of risk specified under the table.  NO “ish factor” is involved.  Assuming correct evaluation of the physical data, this redirects potential liability away from the classifier and moreover, standardizes the risk set which all manufacturers will be subject to.  The situation wherein one manufacturer’s HCS warnings differ from another’s in the case of the same substance at the same amount, physical form, and level of concentration should be ameliorated.

Classification tables and other data required are found in the appendices to the rule.  Appendix A of US 29 CFR 1910.1200 references health hazards (i.e. substances that are harmful in some fashion to human beings through their effect on the body.  An example would be acute toxicity—the substance produces immediate illness or injury).  Appendix B references Physical Hazards (i.e. substances that have physical properties that may cause harm to a human being if activated in proximity to.  An example would be flammability—the substance can ignite and the resultant fire is potentially harmful).  These appendices relate specifically to the corresponding text in the rule itself and are designed to lead the user through a logical sequence of comparing the physical properties of the substance to be classified with the data presented, and simply “plugging in” the values it displays into the tabular data presented.  Unless the substance is of an extraordinary nature, this will lead to a correct classification.  This classification will then be used to identify the required hazard warning information that is to be presented on both labeling and in Safety Data Sheets, or SDS’s. (The SDS format replaces the familiar MSDS format under the new rule).

At time of writing, the new rule is in its transition period.  Classification may presently be performed under either the old standard or the GHS based rule.  This transitory window will close in June of 2015, when all new containers shipped will be required to be compliant with the standard.

While the new Hazcom rule using GHS based classification elements is more technically challenging than the previous iteration of HCS, it offers standardized procedures for classification and the assignment of risk that will make the job of compliance for manufacturers less a matter of individual company-based expertise and more a matter of simply following the same broad path as the entire industry.  It will limit risk to classifiers by removing the “ish factor” that was attendant to the previous rule.  Once fully implemented, it will lead to easy, logical classification of new products and an attendant easing of the path to market.  It is good for American Industry.

Link to rule: http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&rgn=div8&view=text&node=29:


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