From Right-to-Know to Right-to-Understand

GHS pictograms webghs1049

OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) has been revised. If you haven’t already seen changes to Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and labels on chemical products, you will soon. OSHA is requiring that employers train employees on the changes by December 1, 2013.

A little background: in 1983 OSHA established the HCS. The HCS requires employers to ensure that employees know about the chemical products used or stored in their workplace and the hazards associated with those chemicals so that employees can use and handle the chemicals safely. Also referred to as the Right-To-Know Law, the HCS requires that information be provided to all employees who have the potential of being exposed to a hazardous chemical through normal use or in an emergency situation. Required information includes: a hazardous chemical inventory; MSDS for each chemical on the inventory; labels, tags, or signs on primary and secondary containers holding chemicals; and a written hazard communication program. The HCS did not specify a common or coherent approach to classifying chemicals and communicating the information to employees.

To improve safety and health of workers through more effective communications on chemical hazards, OSHA recently revised the HCS to adopt the Globally Harmonized System (GHS). The GHS, also known as the Right-to-Understand System, is an international approach for providing easily understandable information to employees. The adoption of the GHS includes three major changes to the HCS:

• Hazard classification: The definitions of hazard have been changed to provide specific criteria for classification of health and physical hazards, as well as classification of mixtures.
• Labels: Chemical manufacturers and importers will be required to provide a label that includes a common worldwide signal word, pictogram, and hazard statement for each hazard class and category.
• Material Safety Data Sheets: The nine-section MSDS will now be called a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) and will have a specified sixteen-section format.

Many American and foreign chemical manufacturers have already begun to produce HazCom 2012/GHS-compliant labels and SDS. That’s why many workplaces have already begun to receive labels and SDSs that are consistent with the GHS. It is important to ensure that when employees begin to see the new labels and SDSs in their workplaces, they are familiar with them, understand how to use them, and access the information effectively.

Geotechnical Lessons from the Tohoku Earthquake

Japan landslide area

Rockslide (background) and flood protection (foreground) in Ishinomaki City, Japan (Photo: Dave Swanson, Reid Middleton)

The magnitude 7.3 earthquake that struck Japan six days ago is a reminder of the more devastating magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck March 11, 2011. In an earlier post we mentioned a reconnaissance team that traveled to Miyagi Prefecture in Japan in May 2011 after the earthquake and tsunami.

In the landslide area photo above from 2011, the light colored rock slope failed even with reinforcement that protected the slope to the left. The entire land area settled, which allowed Tsunami and high tide water access to the shoreline. Fortunately, in this area the Tsunami water was not as high as other areas, so the buildings weren’t washed away. Blue tarp temporarily protects the river bank from overtopping at high tide.

Doug Lindquist of Hart Crowser had these observations about the geotechnical damage:
Damage generally happened in known geologic hazard areas (tsunami zones, areas near past landslides, liquefiable areas, and reclaimed land).
• Liquefaction damage was extensive even 150 kilometers away from the fault rupture. (Seattle is about 100 kilometers from the Cascadia Subduction Zone.)
• Ground improvement measures are effective.
• Engineering methods can reasonably estimate the liquefaction hazard.
• Newer structures performed well when designed considering known geologic hazards.

As the reconnaissance team report reminds us, a similar earthquake will happen along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, off the coastline from northern California to British Columbia. The impacts of this event on our communities and industry will depend on the actions we take now to prepare for it. The lessons learned from Japan can be applied in our own communities.

For more details on the reconnaissance team’s findings, along with some fascinating photographs, see the report here.