Restaurant owners face a fast-approaching regulatory deadline, yet many may not be aware of it or know what they need to do to comply.

By Dec. 1, 2013, all U.S. employers whose workers may come in contact with chemicals must provide training to help them understand new hazard symbols and warnings that are beginning to appear on product labels and safety data sheets. Those symbols and warnings will become standard over the next several years.

The new hazard communications are a modification to the current Hazard Communications Standard (HCS), administered by U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Referred to as GHS, which stands for the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, the modification is based on an effort to standardize hazard communication worldwide initiated by the United Nations in 1992 and developed over the ensuing decades.

Now being implemented by the U.S. and many other nations, GHS aims to “harmonize” the ways in which chemical hazards are classified and communicated globally. Improved worker safety is the primary goal.

The first of two deadlines: Staff training

Restaurant owners face two regulatory deadlines during GHS implementation. The first is Dec. 1, 2013; the second is June 1, 2016.  Both will be enforced by OSHA’s state-level inspectors.

You need take only one step to meet the December deadline: Train your employees to recognize and understand new GHS pictograms, signal words and precautionary statements that will appear on product labels, and familiarize them with the new GHS safety data sheet format.  

To be clear, you may continue to use products labeled under the existing hazard communication system after Dec. 1. In fact, you may continue to use them until the second deadline for restaurant owners: June 1, 2016, the date OSHA says all chemicals in your inventory must be GHS compliant.
Between Dec. 1 of this year and June 2016, you may use products labeled under both the current and new systems.  Regardless of a product’s label, however, you must have its matching safety data sheet. Not having it could result in a violation and fine.  

Training employees now is critical to prepare them to properly handle GHS-classified and labeled products from the minute they arrive. If you have not yet received GHS-labeled products, it’s likely you soon will. Manufacturers are beginning to phase in the label and safety data sheet (no longer referred to as the “material safety data sheet”) changes to meet their June 1, 2015, deadline for full compliance.