Improving occupational safety and health in this area can only be achieved through the transparent and effective communication of an internationally recognized system of classification, labelling and packaging of hazardous or toxic substances. Such a system is necessary to protect not only the health and safety of workers employed in the manufacture and transport of these materials but also, in the worst case scenario, of emergency response workers and the general public.
The United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System (GHS) was created with a view to tackling this challenge and to bring about improvements internationally in the safe production, transportation and use of hazardous or toxic substances. Its ambit goes wider than safety and health in the workplace and sets out sector-specific requirements for product labelling to inform consumers about the effects (such as carcinogenicity, reproductive toxicity, or target organ systemic toxicity) from repeated exposure to a chemical product.
The GHS, which was first published in 2003 and has since been updated, revised and improved every two years, is a non-legally binding international agreement which countries or trading blocks (such as the European Union and the European Economic Area) can implement through local or national legislation.
Implementing the GHS in the European Union
The European Economic Community (EEC), with its mandate of encouraging cross border trade between member countries, recognized the need to deal with these issues and instituted regulations on the classification, labelling and packaging of hazardous or toxic substances as far back as 1967 (Directive 67/548/EEC). The European Union (EU) added a further directive specifically on preparations in 1999 (Directive 1999/45/EC). Implementing the GHS across the EU and the European Economic Area (EEA) therefore involved replacing the existing directives and implementing the changes. The CLP regulation (Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 on Classification, Labelling and Packaging of Substances and Mixtures) entered into legal effect on 20 January 2009 in the EU (and by agreement, also the EEA). The CLP regulation introduces a transitional period between 1 December 2010 and 1 June 2015 to allow a gradual migration from the existing EU system to the new GHS system.
Key factor for success - communicating change effectively
Introducing major changes effectively in an area such as the Chemical Industry, where failures can have fatal consequences for workers and for the public alike, does not end when legislation is adopted. The changes must be communicated in the simplest and most effective way to ensure a successful implementation and outcome.
The ISSA International Section on Prevention of Occupational Risks in the Chemical Industry, recognizing that the CLP Regulation presented an opportunity as well as a challenge, decided to proactively support the new legislation on chemicals and its implementation.
The know-how and long experience of the Section’s working group on “hazardous substances” was brought into play. The group looked at the fundamental problem and considered the best ways of getting across the information to the most important target groups, especially those in workplaces handling such materials and occupational safety and health organizations responsible for supervising the implementation of health and safety procedures. The strategy was to provide an overview for workers and managers throughout the EU to alert them to the impending changes to ensure they would be ready when the legislation took effect. The group chose to present these changes in a simple, graphic form that could be reproduced relatively cheaply, be easily displayed and which, when translated, would be applicable in different country contexts.
It was for these reasons the group chose to communicate the changes through traditional posters, all available in English, French and German. The four posters illustrate the new hazard pictograms, the new labelling system and provide a comparison between the old and new warning signals for physical and health hazards.
Feedback and outcomes
The proactive and preventive approach taken by the ISSA Chemical Industry Section has clearly paid dividends. About 185,000 posters were distributed in February 2008, well in advance of the legislation entering into effect in January 2009, providing an early and ongoing warning system. So successful were the original four posters that after feedback it was decided to create a further three posters. As a result, managers and workers in the target groups were well prepared for the upcoming changes in EU legislation and were able to identify and implement smoothly the new requirements.
The ISSA International Section on Prevention of Occupational Risks in the Chemical Industry is one of the 12 ISSA international sections promoting safety and health at work. For four decades, the Section has been working to prevent workplace accidents and to identify good practices in the chemical industry.