How manufacturers can prep for new hazardous chemical regulations

How manufacturers can prep for new hazardous chemical regulations

There's a large governmental effort underway to improve the classification and labeling of products containing hazardous materials. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency in charge of safety and health legislation, announced earlier this year new regulations on how chemicals are classified and how the potential hazards of these chemicals are communicated to workers.

More than 32 million US workers are exposed to 650,000 hazardous chemical products, according to OSHA. These changes could reduce worker injuries and increase productivity, says the agency, and could save over half a billion dollars annually in the US alone.

Adopting the rules might seem daunting, but there are user-friendly, customizable options out there, according to a GreenBiz Group webcast held on Wednesday which provided companies guidance on how to comply.

About the rules

The new OSHA regulations conform to the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Chemical Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, which has previously been adopted by the European Union. Countries in the Asia Pacific and South America have done so as well.

Under the new rules, any company company that sells products containing regulated hazardous substances must comply with the following by the middle of 2015:

  • Reclassify its components and products according to the OSHA GHS hazard classification system
  • Reauthor all of its safety data sheets
  • Relabel all of its products

Graphic of molecular structure provided by _Lonely_  via Shutterstock

Business management software giant SAP offers one solution. It developed a product safety system that can help a company with its substance and product data management. SAP offers a subscription service and an on-demand, cloud-based service. Deciding which to use depends on your company’s unique needs.

The subscription service, called SAP EHS Regulatory Content (ERC), has been on the market for more than a decade and is already used by companies around the world. By subscribing to it, a business receives updates and timely regulatory information a few times a year. The service also helps a company author its safety data sheets and labels, and includes a phrase catalog and ready-to-use country-specific safety data sheet templates.

Kevin Drake, director of global product stewardship at Champion Technologies, spoke during the webcast about his company’s experience using SAP’s ERC solution.

Champion, a leading specialty chemical company, first started using the system in 2004. Drake said the SAP solution gave Champion a platform to standardize information and improve the visibility of the company’s records.

“[The system] allowed us to enter new markets without creating additional templates or rerunning or reediting our data,” Drake said.

The SAP solution already has the ability to run the UN’s GHS, so complying with the new OSHA guidelines should be relatively straightforward for Champion, said Drake. The company has already been able to test out some of their products based on the new standards to see how the implementation will go in the US.

By using SAP’s system, Drake said the company would save almost 7,500 hours over the course of implementing the new standards compared to if it had used a product steward to do so.

“The SAP ERC solution is a nice, cost-effective platform, helping us keep up with global regulations and allowing us to expand into new markets,” Drake said.

On-demand services

For companies looking to pick-and-choose what services they want, SAP’s on-demand service is an option. The solution, called EHS Regulatory Documentation (ERD), connects through SAP interfaces directly to a company’s on-site EHS product safety environment. The system, which launches this fall, is cloud-based. Any company can use it by making a request at any given time.

“Think of ERD as an extension of your current business processes,” said Tony Patalocchi, director of on-premise delivery at SAP. A company is still, for instance, performing product development, determining what substances it uses and what its products contain, but instead of “tracking regulations, keeping current with them, classifying and reclassifying your substances and products and authoring your safety data sheets, ERD does that,” he said.

Shelly Livermore, C.P.M. of product safety and regulatory compliance at Dow Corning, said during the webcast that her company faces the challenge of producing over 100,000 data sheets annually for around 14,000 products in 30 different languages. Dow Corning, a leader in silicone-based technology, has chosen SAP’s ERD to help put a process in place that can handle all this data.

Livermore said key considerations for companies as they prepare for OSHA’s new standards include strong project and business leadership, allowing time to ensure the data format allows maximum automation, data mapping and minimizing customization.   

It would take Dow Corning five years to adapt to the new regulations, said Livermore, but the SAP solution is expected to vastly reduce that time. 

Smaller businesses can benefit from the SAP solutions too. The subscription is especially well-suited to smaller companies – it’s available with flexible licensing.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all pricing,” said Patalocchi. “There’s no penalty to be smaller or bigger for either solution.”

Patalocchi said companies needn’t worry about security when using the cloud-based solution. SAP takes the matter of security seriously, he said. The company’s main data center in Germany is regularly audited and is open to customer visits.

“We understand it’s important, we have a very detailed security story,” he said. “We think we can address it and feel very confident about the security nature in the cloud.”

Companies have until June 1, 2015 to comply with the new OSHA regulations. During the transition period between now and then, companies can choose to comply with the existing OSHA regulations or adopt the new one.

“This means manufacturers may start to see new formatted safety data sheets and labels very early in the transition period,” said John Davies, a VP and senior analyst at GreenBiz.

Davies said manufacturers may also find themselves under pressure from customers to adopt the new label formats and safety sheets sooner than what they might have planned.

“This is something to definitely keep an eye on,” he said.

Some tips companies can follow to comply with the new standards are:

  • Train their workers by Dec. 1, 2013 to familiarize them with the new label elements and safety sheet format.
  • Collect and generate more data than what they currently have in order to reclassify their substances and products.
  • Update their safety label sheets and formats, which will likely be a partnership activity between a company’s product steward and IT organization.

Davies cautioned webcast participants that for companies with large product portfolios, reclassifying their substances and products could be a very large effort, especially without automated capabilities to streamline the process.