By Kim Scaravelli

The first thing every U.S employer must know is that the mandatory deadline for providing workers with GHS training has already passed. The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) is an international agreement to standardize chemical hazard classification and communication around the world. OHSA’s Hazard Communication Standard has been revised to include new GHS labeling elements and a GHS-standardized format for Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) (previously known as Material Safety Data Sheets). To ensure the safety of U.S. workers, employers were given a training deadline of December 1, 2013. By this date, workers were supposed to be provided with the training necessary to read and understand the new GHS labels and SDS format. At the state level, OHSA inspectors will be enforcing this regulatory deadline, so employers who have not already provided this training to workers need to do so immediately!

Employers need to know that the GHS training requirements are simple and straightforward. There is no need to feel overwhelmed. All workers need to know at this point is how to understand and interpret the six mandatory elements of GHS product labels and how to find information in the 16 sections of GHS-standardized SDSs. Currently, workers must be trained about both the ‘older’ labels and MSDSs and the ‘new’ GHS labels and GHS-compliant SDSs since both versions are likely to appear in the workplace. By June 1, 2015, all labels and SDSs must be GHS-compliant, but between now and then, employers may use products labeled under both the ‘old’ and ‘new’ systems, so long as each product label has a matching SDS. Not having matched labels and SDSs can result in a violation and fine.

Employers should also know that there are lots of GHS training options available. Larger organizations with safety management departments will appreciate the wealth of free information available on this topic, including government websites filled with resources, webinars, and GHS-related online conversations. Small and mid-size employers may find the prospect of trying to provide this training in-house onerous and costly. Again, there are many affordable options that will have minimal impact on workday activities. Many online Health and Safety training providers are currently offering GHS training, which can be completed by workers when it is most convenient to the employer.

Providing workers with GHS training is necessary, both for compliance and to ensure the health and safety of the workforce. Employers who get GHS training in-place now and who choose training options that are appropriate for their organization will find the effort worthwhile, easing the path to compliance through the rest of the GHS transition.

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