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GHS Around the World
Safety

GHS Around the World

By Sphera February 10, 2021

Changes to the Globally Harmonized System for chemical classifications occur regularly. Sphera’s Carrie Decatur discusses some of the most recent ones and explains how unharmonized GHS can often be.

 

Update announced after podcast recording: On Feb. 5, 2021, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that it would be updating its Hazard Communication standard. It is expected to be published in the Federal Register on Feb. 16, 2021, and comments can be submitted within 60 days of this publication.

Reasons given for the update include:

  1. Aligning with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).
  2. Cooperating with international trading partners and other federal agencies.
  3. Response to feedback and comments from stakeholders, specifically around labeling of small containers and relabeling requirements for chemicals that have been released for shipment.

While the updated regulation will have a basis in UN GHS Revision 7, some Revision 8 updates have also been included. Revision 8 updates that are being considered:

  1. Changes made to skin corrosion/irritation to recognize specific in vitro test methods
  2. Changes to aerosols classification, including the new category of chemicals under pressure
  3. Adoption of certain precautionary phrases (P-phrases)

OSHA is also looking at implementing prescriptive ranges similar to what has been implemented in Canada



An edited transcript follows.

James Tehrani:

Welcome to the SpheraNOW podcast, a program focused on safety, sustainability and productivity issues. I’m James Tehrani, sparks editor in chief. Today on the show, I’ll be speaking with Carrie Decatur, Sphera’s manager of regulatory content. We’ll be discussing the globally harmonized system of classification and labeling of chemicals. And since that’s a mouthful, most people know it as GHS. We’ll be discussing GHS from around the world. Thank you so much for joining me today, Carrie.

Carrie Decatur:

Thanks very much, James. I’m glad to be here.

James Tehrani:

Excellent. So before we begin, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at Sphera?

Carrie Decatur:

Sure. So I’ve been with Sphera for about 14 years now. I started in the services department and then moved into content. And now what my team is responsible for, is reading through the regulations for the FCSs and labels and classification from around the world. And making sure that our developers understand those regulatory needs, so that we can program the rules in the system.

James Tehrani:

Great. And can you tell us a little bit about what GHS is because not everybody who listens to this program is going to know what GHS is all about?

Carrie Decatur:

Sure. So prior to GHS, what would happen is every country would implement their own system of classification. So the US would classify in one way, and Europe would classify in another. And what this did was, it created well, a lot of work for companies because you had a lot more regulations to pay attention to in detail. And you still get a bit of that in the GHS system, but they were vastly different before. What this also does, is make sure that… A label is recognizable pretty much around the world right now the same pictograms are being used, so if you see something coming in from Europe, chances are, employees will recognize what the hazards are associated with that. Even if it’s not perfectly… If it’s going from US to EU, it may not be absolutely perfect, but close enough where people will understand hazards. Where in the past, you may have had very different themes for classification, which could be confusing and then cause harm to a worker who didn’t understand.

James Tehrani:

Gotcha. And can you give us a couple of examples of what kind of hazards you’re talking about?

Carrie Decatur:

Sure. So basically they fall into three categories. We have physical hazards, health hazards and environmental hazards. So your physical hazards are things like explosive, flammable liquids, flammable solids, flammable gases. Is it an oxidizer? Is it pyrophoric? Things like that. On your health side, you have acute hazards and you have chronic hazards. So is it going to hurt me immediately, like a skin corrosion or is it something that may actually come up over time, like a carcinogen? And then our environmental hazard, our acute to the environment or chronic to the environment, and then hazardous to the ozone layer.

James Tehrani:

Got it. So, I’ve been at Sphera for four years now, and one thing that I’ve heard over and over again, is the globally harmonized system isn’t actually so harmonized, can you explain what that means and why that is?

Carrie Decatur:

Sure. So we do the same, we refer to it sometimes as the generally harmonized system. The thing is, is that the big advantage over what we had before, is that there is a standard for classification. So when you classify for acute toxicity around the world, you’re basically always doing it in the same way. Now, what happens when GHS was implemented, is that you had countries with very mature systems already, such as the US or the EU. And those countries were reluctant to give up on some of the warnings that would be given to employees in their countries. So in the US, we have implemented an additional hazard for combustible dust. It was something that we had seen issues with, in terms of safety, and the US wanted to make sure that, that would still be communicated well on a safety data sheet.

Carrie Decatur:

Now, combustible dust is not an actual hazard under the GHS. And so this is where you start to see some differences between countries. So your first difference is, did they add additional building blocks or hazard statements as they do in the EU? And then the second is that, while the GHS implemented. … They implement what we call hazard classes, which is your acute toxicity, skin corrosion, irritation, and then hazard categories. So category one would be the most severe, and as you go up, you get less of your hazard associated with it. So for example, acute toxicity has categories one through category five. Not all countries have implemented category five. And so you see this difference in both hazard class, did they implement it or not? Did they implement all the hazard categories associated with that class? And then also, did they implement any of their own hazard classes?

James Tehrani:

I see, and what percentage of countries would you say have an implemented category five?

Carrie Decatur:

Oh. That’s a very good question. I’m not sure, I would go with a very easy about half probably have and half haven’t.

James Tehrani:

We won’t hold you to it, I’m just curious. I won’t hold you to it.

Carrie Decatur:

No, that’s okay. It depends because a lot of countries will just reference the purple book, so the purple book is the GHS, that’s our shorthand for it. So a lot of them in their regulations will just say, take a look at revision seven of the UN GHS. And then maybe give some specifics because there are places in the purple book where it says, ‘The competent authorities shall make a decision.’ And so they’ll adopt the entire purple book and then just make those decisions where they apply. Where you see countries doing that, a lot of times you do get the category five. It’s a really easy way to implement a hazard classification system. It’s the countries where they had mature systems previously, where you start to see, I think, the most changes.

James Tehrani:

Got it. I was reading over a blog post you wrote in 2017, and at the time you wrote, ‘In the GHS world, I don’t think region matters as much as the implementation itself does.’ Is that still true, and why do you believe that?

Carrie Decatur:

I think to a certain extent it still was, and if I remember correctly, I think that blog post was around trying to harmonize more. A question that we get often is, “’Can I create an Asia FCS, rather than a specific China or a specific Japan one?’ And this is where this idea of region, or sorry, implementation comes in over region. So perhaps you have Singapore, Taiwan and Chile, who have all implemented a similar type of GHS, so they all have the same building blocks, they all have the same cutoff.

Carrie Decatur:

Well, technically then, you could use one FCS across those. Now, you have to be careful with things like OELs, which tend to be country specific and all of that. But in terms of your thinking and how are you going to classify and just the main bulk of the GHS part, you can start to get out of the regional or country specific differences and take a look and see, ‘OK, these groups of people implement a category four and these ones implement a category five.’ And even in our own analysis of different country implementations, a lot of times that’s where we’ll start. ‘Well, what version did they implement first?’ Because that kind of gives you a baseline of what the rest of it is going to look like.

James Tehrani:

Wow, that sounds very complicated. It’s almost like you need some software to deal with that.

Carrie Decatur:

Yeah, software is very good. It’s a lot to keep track of because we’ve only skimmed the surface, we haven’t even talked about the data that you actually use in those classifications.

James Tehrani:

Oh dear, we have to talk about the data, too? All right, let’s talk about the data. What do we need to know about the data, Carrie?

Carrie Decatur:

The thing about the data is, that you have some countries who will classify specific substances, like the EU. So they’ve got their annex six list, and it will say, “For formaldehyde, these are the classifications.” The US doesn’t do that. So then you start to see differences in classifications, not because the GHS implementation is different, but because EU may specify a certain classification, but in the US, they’re saying, ‘Well, I don’t have the data to support that necessarily.’ And this is where even in software, you have to be careful to make sure that you have adequate data in the system, to get those correct classifications. So do you have the toxicity data that you need? Do you have physical property data? Do you have those classification lists?

James Tehrani:

And do most companies have those?

Carrie Decatur:

Well, they do if they have our software, but—

James Tehrani:

Oh, I see.

Carrie Decatur:

It all depends on what you’re looking at. Could you compile it all on your own? Yes, but that’s a lot of data to maintain over time.

James Tehrani:

Do companies still do things by hand and write in books and notebooks and things like that? Or is it pretty much all computerized by now?

Carrie Decatur:

I think there are some that are still doing this by hand. And we find is that those are, they tend to be smaller companies, who sell into one region, so it’s a small U.S. company. And in that case, it’s probably doable. But what happens is, is that they start to grow and then they want to export into other countries. And then they start to realize, we have a problem. We can’t manage a global system, doing it all by hand. Or they get bought by another larger company. And now it’s moving from that very manual system into a software system.

James Tehrani:

Sure. And you can’t share information very easily in a manual system.

Carrie Decatur:

Can you ensure consistency? Because consistency is … So there’s two big ‘C’ words, compliance and consistency. So compliance is self-explanatory, but consistency, you want to make sure that if you’re selling similar products, that you have similar classifications, because if you’ve got two different authors who are looking at it, they could potentially interpret the data in different ways. Or they could be using different data sets. And that’s another advantage of using a software system.

James Tehrani:

Got it. Great. So let’s talk a little bit about updates. I understand that there’s some changes going on in New Zealand with alignment. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Carrie Decatur:

Yeah. So in November of last year, New Zealand announced that they will be updating their regulations to meet the requirements of UN GHS revision seven. Now, New Zealand had implemented this kind of pretty purple book, pre-GHS implementation, so their GHS has always looked a bit different from what we’re used to. We’re excited about this because this aligns them now with the rest of the world. It’s planned to take effect in April of this year, but this is one of those countries that, they will have some of their own specific classifications. Specifically, they had had a category that was around substances that are hazardous to the terrestrial environment. So these are meant to be applicable to, agrochemicals or active ingredients used and the manufacturer of certain agrochemicals. So again, you have a country that’s saying, “Okay, we’re going to implement rev. seven, that’s good, that gives us our baseline, we know where we’re starting from. But they’re also going to implement some of their own additional hazards with it.

James Tehrani:

And that’s typical, I mean, most countries will take on and do their own thing, it does it to a certain extent.

Carrie Decatur:

To a certain extent. I would say fewer countries add their own hazards. Most of them will stay pretty well within the GHS framework. So the US and Canada have added their own, the EU doesn’t add additional hazard classes, but they add additional hazard statements. And now we’ve got New Zealand who’s implementing their own hazard classes. So that part is not as prevalent.

James Tehrani:

Oh interesting. So why do you think New Zealand is taking that approach?

Carrie Decatur:

Well, this was an environmental type of hazard that is not implemented within the GHS, and my feeling is that culturally New Zealand is very conscious about making sure that they do maintain their environment and they do know what the chemicals are going to do and they can protect against any harm. So in this case … And I couldn’t say specifically for … I have not looked at it to be honest. But my guess is with this, is that they see a particular hazard to their environment and they don’t want to lose the protections that they already have in place.

James Tehrani:

Gotcha. Well, I mean, New Zealand did a heck of a job against COVID-19, so I can’t argue with anything they’re doing right now.

Carrie Decatur:

No, they seem to be ahead of the game on some of these things.

James Tehrani:

Definitely. So there was also some changes in India and Chile about forecast implementations. Can we talk about that real quickly?

Carrie Decatur:

Sure. So India has a draft reach registration regulation, so this is a little bit different than what GHS is, although they touch on GHS within it. So if we take a look at the EU model, because this will help us to understand a little bit. Within the EU, they have the CLP, which governs the labeling and the classification, and then they have reach. And reach governs what is on the FCS, and it’s also a registration system for substances. So the EU has been going back through all of their substances to look at additional safety data, to register those, to know it, and then begin to possibly phase out some things that are considered to be especially harmful. And we see these reach sort of regulations propagating around the world. So Korea has a reach, china has, what looks to be a reach type of regulation coming out. The US does not do reach, but there have been quite a few updates lately. And that’s our equivalent, it doesn’t work the same way, but it’s the same kind of idea.

James Tehrani:

And just so everybody knows, reach stands for registration, evaluation, authorization, and restriction of chemicals. Just so we’re all on the same page here.

Carrie Decatur:

Thank you for that, I am terrible with the acronyms, but that was impressive. I liked that.

James Tehrani:

I got it all in my back. Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt the flow. Go ahead.

Carrie Decatur:

No, you’re all good. So the India reach is mainly around substance registration and when certain substances have to be registered. They do say that they want classification and labeling, with respect to UN GHS revision eight. So to my knowledge, this is the first rev. eight that we’ve had referenced by a country regulation. So they are a little bit ahead of the game and on par with what the UN has published so far. And this is expected to come into force in 2021. Now, what we’ve seen with COVID, is that there is a lot of… We plan to do this by this date and things are getting pushed. So we will see what happens with that, but we’ll be keeping an eye on it.

James Tehrani:

Do you have any examples of stuff that’s been pushed back because of COVID?

Carrie Decatur:

Well, we see that with the reach one, Australia has also been pushed back. So they were planning to adopt UN GHS revision seven. But this one also has been delayed. What Australia did though that was interesting is that, there were country… Or sorry, not countries, there were companies who wanted to start moving forward with it or already had, anticipating the regulatory change. So Australia has put special arrangements into place to allow companies to move toward rev. seven if they want to. From a software perspective for intelligent offering and CE in particular is that, due to the way that we have built our settings system, our clients can either choose to stay where they are now, or they can change the settings, to start moving toward revision seven, whenever they’re ready to. They don’t need to wait for us to do that implementation.

James Tehrani:

OK, so that’s great, so can you talk a little bit about Chile?

Carrie Decatur:

Sure. So Chile has implemented an FCS standard, that is aligned with GHS for the most part. Now, what’s still going on in Chile, is that their classification and labeling standard is still being drafted, so you sometimes have these two parts. You’ve got the FCS and then you’ve got the classification and labeling. Really, you need both of them to have a full system. So when we look at their FCS, we see something that looks mostly like a GHS, FCS. However, in section two, they do have references to other regulations, two of which are transport in nature, and then one, if you look at it from a US centric point of view, it looks like NFPA around safety signs that you have to have. So Chile is still moving toward GHS, but they don’t have a full system in place yet.

James Tehrani:

  1. And I think I heard some breaking news that something’s going on in Canada, can you talk a little bit about that?

Carrie Decatur:

Yeah. So in December of last year, Canada announced its intent to upgrade or update the HPR, which is the hazardous product regulations. And they are also looking at meeting UN GHS revision seven, and they are currently on revision five. They are looking at a two-year transition for this, which is really interesting because the U.S. and Canada have long worked to try and keep their hazard classification systems in sync with each other. So right now, even before this change, the U.S. and Canada are not perfectly aligned, but pretty well. Moving to a rev. seven though, would be a significant difference from the US. Now, the US has also indicated that they would like to update, but they’ve been indicating this for quite some time now, and we’ve not seen any movements on it and we still really don’t see movement. So it’ll be interesting to watch what happens there.

James Tehrani:

Well we will keep an eye on that and if there’s any updates, will you come back on the program and let us know?

Carrie Decatur:

Definitely.

James Tehrani:

Well, thank you so much for your time today Carrie, this was really great. I appreciate it.

Carrie Decatur:

All right, thank you so much for having me.

James Tehrani:

Thank you. And this concludes our podcast today.

 

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