A push is now underway to get as many countries as possible to implement by 2008 the Global Harmonization System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS), which has been adopted by the United Nations. GHS aims to facilitate safe handling and use of chemicals through a global system of chemical hazard communication, labeling, and classification, making it an integral part of the safe transport and use of chemical substances.
Getting with the program
Many requirements now in place in the United States control classification and labeling of hazardous chemicals transported and used in workplaces and elsewhere. Internationally, many countries have implemented comparable regulatory systems. While all are well intentioned, these systems are often sufficiently dissimilar so as to cause confusion over classification and labeling of chemicals, and sometimes create trade barriers.
The GHS isnt a regulation or standard as defined by law, but rather a document that establishes agreed-upon hazard classification and communication provisions with explanatory information on how to apply the system. The program allows regulators to select specific methods they believe are best suited to address hazards posed by a chemical.
GHS elements provide a mechanism to meet basic requirements of the hazard communication system, which, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is to decide if the chemical product produced and/or supplied is hazardous and to prepare a label and/or Safety Data Sheet [SDS] as appropriate. (OSHAs, A Guide to The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals is available at www.osha.gov/dsg/hazcom/GHSGuideOct05.pdf). Regulatory authorities in countries that have adopted or are now adopting the GHS will use its criteria and provisions and implement them through their own regulatory processes and procedures.
Domestic regulatory initiatives
An Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) on GHS implementation (71 Fed. Reg. 53617 (Sept. 12, 2006) was issued by OSHA on September 12, 2006. OSHA also has released a useful Guide to the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. The guide makes it clear that there is no enforceable international GHS implementation schedule. Rather, different national systems and/or business sectors will require different timeframes to implement the GHS. Additionally, existing regulatory systems are expected to consider phase-in strategies for transitioning from current requirements to new GHS criteria and protocols.
OSHA seeks comment on many issues in the ANPR. These include, for example, the number of hazardous chemicals, as defined by OSHAs Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), that entities produce, import or distribute; the number of hazardous chemicals exported; and the number of different labels or data sheets needed to prepare for each exported chemical. OSHA wants to know who is responsible for reviewing the data on chemicals and preparing appropriate labels and SDSs, their professional background, and whether they make independent determinations or rely largely on labels or data sheets developed by others (suppliers, materials available on the Internet, etc.).
The Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held an October 18, 2006 public meeting on the scope and application of GHS to pesticide labeling issues (71 Fed. Reg. 55180, Sept. 21, 2006). The meeting allowed pesticide stakeholders an opportunity to better understand how GHS will impact pesticide labeling issues. OPP had issued in 2004 a white paper outlining how it intends to approach implementation of GHS with respect to its pesticide programs. The October meeting sought more public input on EPAs plans.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), later this year, is expected to complete an evaluation of how to align all pertinent regulations to accommodate GHS. The evaluation is expected to be available in 2008. More information is available at http://hazmat.dot.gov/regs/intl/globharm.htm.
Finally, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is undertaking a staff assessment of GHS. The review is expected to result in an identification of regulations that may need revision, possible statutory changes that may be necessary, and areas that require clarification and/or guidance. CPSC is likely to seek the views of interested stakeholders as part of the process.
Readers are urged to assist OSHA, EPA, DOT, and the CPSC with these important issues, and stay abreast of GHS issues as they arise. Implementation of the GHS will profoundly impact U.S. industry, and the federal government needs all the help it can get to ensure the transition is seamless and effective.
Lynn Bergeson is managing director of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C., a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that concentrates on chemical industry issues. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed herein are solely those of the author. This column is not intended to provide, nor should be construed as, legal advice.