Over the last several years, you may have heard about the worldwide implementation of the Global Harmonization System (GHS). In a nutshell, the GHS is an international standard that brings consistency and uniformity to how the hazards of chemicals are classified and communicated to importers, end users, etc. Until now, there was no standard among countries on how to classify these chemical hazards, and communicate them via labels, Material Safety Data Sheets, etc. A chemical that was considered flammable in one country, might not be considered flammable in another. Manufacturers who marketed the same chemical in 10 different countries had to comply with 10 different sets of rules.
The GHS resolves most, if not all, of those issues, by standardizing chemical hazard classifications, and formats of chemical labels and Material Safety Data Sheets (now referred to as Safety Data Sheets).
When GHS took effect, Federal OSHA updated the existing Federal Hazard Communication Standard or “HCS” (29 CFR 1910.1200) to reflect those changes. But MN is a state agreement state. In other words, Federal OSHA doesn’t apply here, and neither does the Federal Hazard Communication standard. In MN, we have a similar, but not identical law; the Minnesota Employee Right to Know Act or “MERTKA”. So, Minnesota OSHA was faced with a decision. They could either update MERTKA to reflect the GHS changes, or they could adopt the newly revised HCS. In the fall of 2012, they chose to do the latter.
Unfortunately, there are some key differences between the two regulations, so they couldn’t be simply “swapped” with each other. Most notably, the scope of the two regulations is very different. MERTKA applies to employees who have exposure to hazardous substances, harmful physical agents like heat, noise or radiation, and infectious agents, whereas the Federal HCS covers only hazardous substances and specifically exempts infectious agents, and harmful physical agents. MNOSHA wanted to make sure that exposures to harmful physical agents and infectious agents were still covered by one rule or the other. To to this, they opted to adopt the HCS as it applies to chemical exposures, but NOT adopt the rule’s exemptions for infectious (“biological agents”) and harmful physical agents (heat, noise, radiation) that appear in the Federal rule.
In summary, when the final implementation date arrives (see below), employers may need to develop and maintain a MERTKA program for employees who have exposures to harmful physical agents and/or infectious agents AND an HCS program for employees with exposure to hazardous chemicals. One possible option to avoid having to implement a MERTKA program AND an HCS program would be to write one program (it won’t matter what you call it) in such a way that the requirements of both regulations are met. You can purchase a template Hazard Communication/Right to Know program which accomplishes this here.
Another key difference between the two rules is that the Federal HCS does not require annual refresher safety training, whereas MERTKA does. Minnesota OSHA will continue to require annual refresher training for all covered employees.
A summary of the mandatory implementation dates is below. Until each effective date of the standard is reached, Minnesota employers may comply with the revised HCS or the current MERTKA requirements.
- December 1, 2013: Train employees on the new data sheet format and the new pictograms for labels.
- June 1, 2015: All chemical labels and Safety Data Sheets (formerly Material Safety Data Sheets) must conform to the new standard GHS format.
- June 1, 2016: Written programs and signs must be in compliance.
As always, please be sure to consult with a qualified safety professional, or safety consultant prior to implementing changes in your written safety programs or safety training.