CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Chemical safety standards used for years in Europe and Canada are coming to America under a United Nations initiative to standardize information and communication about potentially hazardous chemicals.
On Wednesday, 60 safety professionals from area businesses attended a presentation at the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce on the "Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals."
"The world's getting smaller, everybody knows it," said David Thomas, safety compliance supervisor for the Tennessee Occupational Safety & Health Administration. "You're dealing with all these countries now and you've got all these chemicals ... coming across the borders."
The initiative affects the global chemical business, which accounts for more than $1.7 trillion annually, according to OSHA's website. Of that total, the U.S. makes up $450 billion and exports more than $80 billion.
Thomas said the new standards, which have been in the works for nearly 20 years, do not create drastic changes to how most chemicals are categorized. They will, however, require businesses to adopt a 16-section universal labeling system that addresses key elements of a substance's composition, first-aid and firefighting measures and handling and storage requirements, he said.
Deadlines for compliance are approaching in phases. Employers must train their workers in the new labeling requirements by Dec. 1, 2013. After June 1, 2015, all hazardous chemicals must be appropriately labeled before shipping.
"Europe and Canada have used these standards for years," said David O'Boyle, co-chairman of the Cleveland/Bradley Safety Council. "The U.N. push is to make things reciprocal."
He said the phased-in nature of the mandatory changes will be of some comfort to industries, giving them time to adapt.
The next Safety Council forum, set for May 28, will focus on making preparations for handling "active shooter" scenarios in the workplace.
Educating industries on how to properly react to workplace violence situations is a necessity that ought to happen now instead of waiting until we have a shooting incident, O'Boyle said.
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at email@example.com.