The Final Countdown

As June 1 rapidly approaches, I hear many questions about OSHA’s final deadline in its implementation of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for the classification and labeling of chemicals. For laboratories in the United States, this journey began in 2013 when the first training deadline arose. All employees who work with chemicals were required to have training on the changing chemical label elements and the updated and standardized Safety Data Sheets (SDS).

Helpful Hint: Neither you nor your staff should be writing or saying “Material Safety Data Sheet” or “MSDS.” Those are outdated terms and should no longer be used. Unlike the old versions, the new SDS are standardized with 16 uniform sections that are the same no matter which chemical manufacturer provides the information.

The 2013 GHS training provided a good amount of information, and it raised many questions. Will manufacturers really be using pictograms and signal words to identify hazards? Would they truly be able to make those changes by the next deadline dates? How does that affect secondary chemical container labeling? What about changes to the lab’s chemical hygiene plan and signage? It was a great deal to absorb and digest.

The year 2015 held within it two more deadlines that would affect all laboratories. First, chemical manufacturers would have to create only products which contained GHS-compliant labels, and they would have to produce only GHS-compliant SDS. OSHA realized that these manufacturers would have a substantial amount of non-compliant inventory at this point, so there was a six month period before the next requirement would be enforced. That meant these companies would have six months to continue delivering non-compliant chemicals and SDS to laboratories. The second deadline in 2015 was the cut-off period for these manufacturers. They would no longer be permitted to ship chemicals with non-compliant labels or SDS. The last deadline would also provide a six month gap. OSHA has given laboratories time to accept and use these chemicals with non-compliant labels.

Helpful Hint: Walk around your laboratory and look at all of your primary chemical container labels. If you find any that are not GHS-compliant, you need to remove them from your lab before June 1 of this year. OSHA does NOT allow the re-labeling of primary chemical containers.

The final GHS implementation deadline, June 1, 2016, requires that labs complete the updates of all workplace labels, Safety Data Sheets, and any hazard communication policies and procedures. The lab Chemical Hygiene Plan should be updated to include newer terminology and labeling instructions. The chemical inventory may need updating as well to include signal words or pictograms if used on that form. While this last deadline has an impact on primary chemical container labels, it does not need to affect secondary container labeling. OSHA does allow the continued use of NFPA or HMIS labels for secondary containers in the lab provided staff is trained on those hazard warning systems as well.

Helpful Hint: For consistency and better staff understanding, choose one labeling convention for secondary chemical containers in the lab. Using GHS and NFPA/HMIS may be confusing. Labeling is an important piece of hazard communication, and staff needs to be clear on what hazards they may be handling.

Some signs in the lab may need updating in certain areas. Buried in OSHA’s Formaldehyde Standard (1910.1048) is a GHS reference that points to a required wording change. If the formaldehyde warning sign is posted in your lab, the GHS implementation requires updated wording. The sign is required in labs where the formaldehyde concentration exceeds OSHA’s limits as detected via vapor badge monitoring. The updated signage must read as follows:






The full implementation of the Globally Harmonized System is here, and it is a modern system designed to adequately communicate hazards to those who work with chemicals. Many countries around the world have been or are in the process of adopting GHS, a system which provides standardized warnings and information. Once fully implemented in your laboratory, these updated chemical hygiene practices will assist in providing an environment for working with chemicals that is both comprehensible and safe.


Scungio 1

-Dan Scungio, MT(ASCP), SLS, CQA (ASQ) has over 25 years experience as a certified medical technologist. Today he is the Laboratory Safety Officer for Sentara Healthcare, a system of seven hospitals and over 20 laboratories and draw sites in the Tidewater area of Virginia. He is also known as Dan the Lab Safety Man, a lab safety consultant, educator, and trainer.

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