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No GHS Labels? You Have Options.

Posted on 3/23/2016 by Roger Marks

Attorney-at-law Rick Schweitzer this month released a memo that shares helpful tips for chemical distributors who face changing hazard labeling standards under OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200), HazCom for short. OSHA revised its HazCom Standard in 2012 to incorporate elements of the Globally Harmonized System for Classifying and Labeling Chemicals, or “GHS.”

Under the revised HazCom Standard, also known as HazCom 2012, OSHA requires all workplace containers of hazardous chemicals to be labeled according to new criteria to protect employees. GHS hazard labels must also appear on all shipped containers, making it crucial that distributors understand the requirements and are prepared to comply.

What If I Don’t Have GHS Labels?

As manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, and workplaces adjust to the updated GHS HazCom rules, chemical shippers may, at times, need to ship chemicals before the shipper has the proper updated GHS labels. There are two main scenarios to address:

1. The manufacturer or supplier ships chemicals to the distributor without proper GHS labels.

2. GHS labels were not officially required until December 1, 2015. So, product received before that date may not feature the updated GHS labels.

GHS label on acetone chemical container
So, what is the distributor’s responsibility to label the chemical containers correctly under GHS rules?

As Schweitzer lays out in his memo, distributors who receive mis-labeled or unlabeled chemical containers from a manufacturer or supplier are faced with a number of options that are less-than-ideal:

1. Return the shipment to the manufacturer;
2. Require the manufacturer to come affix proper labels at the distributor’s facility;
3. Request proper labels from the manufacturer and apply to containers before resale; or
4. Resell the products without proper labels.

Live on April 19: GHS Compliance for Hazmat Shippers Webinar

Challenges of These 4 GHS Shipping Options

The memo goes on to dissect the options for chemical distributors listed above. Option 4—shipping containers without GHS labels—is a clear violation of the OSHA’s Hazard Communication requirements for distributors, who must ensure every container that leaves their facility is properly labeled. [29 CFR 1910.1200(f)(1)]

Option 3 poses significant challenges too. Chemical manufacturers often include GHS information on product labels. If this is the case, the manufacturer may not be willing to send product labels for the distributor to affix. The manufacturer may be concerned these product labels could be misused.

Transporting employees from the manufacturer’s facility to the distributor’s facility to affix proper marks and labels, as suggested in Option 2, may be a logistics challenge or even downright impossible in some cases.

These leaves distributors with Option 1—return the chemical product to the manufacturer. If the distributor does return the shipment to the manufacturer, the shipment may meet US DOT’s hazardous materials criteria, subjecting it to 49 CFR hazmat packaging, labeling, and communication requirements, forcing the distributor to take on liability for fines as high as $75,000 per day, per violation for hazmat shipping mistakes. 

Another GHS Option for Chemical Distributors

There is one other option that, while not perfect, may be the best course of action for chemical distributors.

Shipping employees may create generic GHS labels to ship hazardous chemicals. To do so, check Section 2 of the Safety Data Sheet (formerly known as a Material Safety Data Sheets or MSDS—another GHS change). Section 2 of the SDS lists required Label Data that employees can use to create an improvised GHS label.

6 Elements of a GHS Hazard Label
There are six required elements that must go onto a GHS label. All GHS labels must have:
  • A product identifier (as used on the SDS);
  • The name, address, and telephone number of the chemical manufacturer, importer, or other responsible party;
  • A signal word;
  • Pictograms;
  • Hazard statements; and
  • Precautionary statements. [29 CFR 1910.1200(f)(1)]

Creating your own GHS labels is not without its risks: If the GHS labels you create and use do not contain all of the correct information, or if improperly labeled products are involved in a transport or workplace incident, your site could face liability along with the manufacturer.

Know How GHS Rules Affect Your Shipments

At the end of the day, a distributor’s best bet is to become as familiar as possible with GHS labels and other hazard communication requirements of OSHA’s revised HazCom Standard. With that knowledge in place, distributors are in a better position to identify and correct potential noncompliance issues before they result in injury, rejected shipments, or costly fines.

What’s more, distributors should make sure that their vendors and suppliers are fully aware of their own responsibilities under the revised HazCom Standard, so distributors can focus on what they do best – getting products into people’s hands.

Live GHS Training for Chemical Shippers

Join the live, expert-led GHS Compliance for Hazmat Shippers Webinar on April 19 to learn how GHS rules and DOT’s 49 CFR hazmat shipping standards intersect. Know what labels to use, when, and how the two labeling standards fit together. Be ready to keep shipments moving safely, on-time, and in compliance!

GHS Training to Meet OSHA HazCom Standards

The Final GHS deadline is coming fast. By June 1, 2016, all employers must have updated their workplace labeling and hazard communication programs to comply with the revised GHS standards. Be confident that you know what it takes to comply, and that your employees can recognize and use new hazard labels to protect themselves—and each other.

For employees who need training that covers the new GHS label and safety data sheet (SDS) standards, Lion offers the Hazard Communication Online Course. For EHS managers who oversee their sites’ HazCom program(s), Lion offers the Managing Hazard Communication Online Course.

Tags: GHS, hazard communication, hazmat shipping, osha

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