The “Competent Person” under GHS

You may be aware that GHS and CLP both require Safety Data Sheets to be compiled by a “competent person”. But it’s not clear what this actually means.

As GHS has been based on the Transport of Dangerous Goods (TDG), it is likely that this requirement has come out of that standard.

Under TDG, there are rules on the training of Dangerous Goods Safety Advisors (DGSAs), including specific standards to meet in exams, how often the training and associated exams must be undertaken, and what tasks must be carried out by someone with DGSA (or IATA) certification.

So what makes TDG able to have universal (or at least global) training requirements?

Why TDG can have a globally accepted training standard

Now, at this point I must hold my hand up and admit that I am not a TDG specialist. In fact, I have a chap who I rely on for DGSA work, who’s very good.

I call him my “Tame DGSA” – he’s a bit like BBC Top Gear’s Stig, in that he really knows his stuff, only rather more talkative than The Stig. (If you’re unfamiliar with BBC Top Gear and The Stig, or you want a quick break from thinking about chemical regulations, ).

So what I’m about to say is just my own observations, and if you’re a TDG specialist, you may find mistakes (and if you do, please let me know!).

  • TDG has been around for a long time, the 1950s. It has been implemented gradually over decades, and evolved over time in consultation with the people implementing it on the ground. TDG works at a practical level.
  • It is applied pretty much uniformly across the world. If you sign up to TDG, you accept all of its requirements. Local variations are relatively minor.
  • There is an agreed list of classifications for TDG, which cover the most common and the most hazardous materials which are transported, the Dangerous Goods List. This means that a hazardous material classified in China should have exactly the same classification in the USA, or Brazil, or Australia, or Europe
  • There are updates every two years, and strict timelines for these updates to be adopted in every country using TDG
  • There is a legal requirement for most companies (“undertakings”) who consign Dangerous Goods for transport to have at least one Safety Adviser, (more than one may be required if you are consigning to e.g. road and air).
  • The duties of the Safety Adviser are clearly laid out in the published standards such as ADR and IATA. Only a qualified Safety Adviser is allowed to carry out certain duties. There are very specific requirements on the topics of study for a Safety Adviser, what the exam format should be, the need for renewed testing etc. Section 1.8.3 of , contains this information.

In my professional opinion as a trainer (OK, someone who abandoned school teaching after trying it briefly as a late entrant in my early 30s, although I’ve trained a lot of adults in the chemical industry since), what allows all this training to be placed in the UN TDG standards, whether ADR, IATA etc, and into the downstream regulations, is the fact that the system is well established, stable, and has a very specific way of classifying its hazardous materials which is used throughout the world.

If TDG was not so stable, or did not have a very precise method of classificatoin (and also packaging goods, marking vehicles etc), then it would not be possible to specify the training in the global standard, it would have to be done at country or jurisdiction level, at best. I think you need to have a system with both qualities to allow a universal training standard.

An analogous situation is probably the training of airline pilots. They all speak English, it is the international language of aviation, giving stability. Pilot training also includes a list of things like weather, aeronautics etc which are very similar around the world. There is good agreement on what should be included, so a pilots licence in one country is often accepted in another.

When we think about GHS, the situation is very different to TDG. This is a relatively new standard which operates differently to TDG, even though TDG is it’s “parent”. (For more background on the relationship between TDG and GHS see my previous emails , and ).

Is GHS in a position to require global training, and have formal training and updating standards which must be met?

GHS is a long way from being as Global or as Harmonised as its name suggests.

Firstly, it is not adopted across the world yet, and you can see the countries which have implemented it so far here: . TDG is much more widely adopted.

GHS allows a number of specific variations, such as allowing individual jurisdictions to:

  • decide which classifications they will adopt in their own systems (in the EU, we don’t adopt Category 5 acute toxicity, which also occurs in the USA; yet the USA have Category 4 Combustible liquid, which the EU doesn’t have)
  • choose which classification thresholds to use for some health hazard classifications:
    • in the EU, we use 0.3% instead of 0.1% for Reprotox Category 1A, Category 1B, Category 2, and Lactation effects
    • We also use 1% instead of 0.1% for Carcinogen Category 2
    • These are the only thresholds which are variable within GHS, and it is interesting that the EU chooses the higher threshold where a choice is available
  • have their own labelling statements over and above the GHS classifications (in the EU, we have EUH statements)
  • compile and use their own list of “official” classifications which must be used in place of the thresholds and algorithms for GHS, to account for substances which are not as hazardous or more hazardous than the results of their tests for GHS suggest; and to account for substances which behave in mixtures differently to the thresholds and algorithms in GHS, again these may be more or less hazardous than predicted (in the EU, we have the Harmonised Classification list; other countries use other lists which may not agree with EU Harmonised Classifications)
  • decide when to update the version of GHS they use, for example the EU updates regularly, but the USA adopted GHS REvision 3 in 2012, and will adopt GHS Revision 7, . This means that not every jurisdiction is on the same GHS revision, which can cause significant differences in classification where methods or thresholds have been updated

GHS is an unstable system, as it is being adopted in a “pick and mix” fashion, and it is relatively young, and still being updated.

So I can’t really see that there is enough consistency within how GHS is being applied worldwide to allow for a true global training system anytime in the next 20 to 30 years.

In fact, the UN has tried one of these steps, which is trying to set up a list of “official” classifications. They started the process back in 2012, as this ChemicalWatch article describes: discussing the classification of two substances, and this ended in disagreement.

If the UN parties cannot agree on a couple of chemical classifications, it shows that GHS is not as clear a method of classification as Transport.

However, this has not stopped the GHS sub-committee at the UN talking about a Global ListThey are still talking about this as a way forward (e.g. in 2019, see ), but this indicates that any list would be non-binding.

This is, of course, in stark contrast to the way in which Transport of Dangerous Goods operates.

It is difficult to see how GHS is ever going to become a truly harmonised global system if everything is voluntary, and requires the agreement of participants.

What training is currently required within GHS?

Training is mentioned at various points in GHS, covering various topics such as:

  • the need to train people in the workplace in pictograms, hazard statements etc
  • consideration of whether the GHS label communicate hazards effectively to consumers who have not been trained
  • the requirement for compilers of SDSs to receive training

Section 1.4.9 of GHS covers all of these points, and for people classifying, labelling and authoring SDSs, it states: “Training requirements should be appropriate for and commensurate with the nature of the work or exposure. Key target audiences for training include workers, emergency responders, and those involved in the preparation of labels, SDS and hazard communication strategies as part of risk management systems.”.

As far as I can tell, this is the only point at which training for classifiers (as opposed to SDS compilers) is mentioned within GHS.

This is somewhat concerning, because if you don’t get the classification right, the SDS is bound to be incorrect. One of the main findings of the recent ECHA enforcement report into the classification and labelling of hazardous mixtures was: “Manufacturers, importers and downstream users have to put more effort into deriving the right classification for mixtures and communicating it down the supply chain. This will prevent incorrect information being disseminated in safety data sheets and on labels.

(Unfortunately, this excellent reminder on the prime importance of the classification was rather hidden among the hype about “44% of hazardous mixtures are classified incorrectly”, which is overstating the case, as I discussed in last week’s email ).

Section A. of GHS gives more details on training SDS compilers: “The SDS shall be prepared by a competent person who shall take into account the specific needs of the user audience, as far as it is known. Persons placing substances and mixtures on the market shall ensure that refresher courses and training on the preparation of SDS be regularly attended by the competent persons.”

That isn’t particularly helpful, and in marked contrast to the TDG list of topics for training.

Given what we know about the instability of GHS, we can’t really expect any explicit formal training requirements from it for quite some time.

In the USA, the American Industrial Hygiene Association, AIHA, has taken matters into its own hands, and runs an SDS Label and Authoring Registry , which has been set up in conjunction with the USA’s Society for Chemical Hazard Communication (SCHC). I do not know what their requirements are, but it is to be expected that professional bodies will step into the gap caused by a lack of direction under GHS.

So at the moment, we are in limbo: there is the requirement that a Competent Person should compile the GHS SDS, but there is very little information on what this means. Next week, I will look at the situation within the EU.

I hope this is useful, and as usual, if you have any queries (or can point out any mistakes or omissions), then please email me.

GHS Classification Courses from TT Environmental Ltd

2nd March 2020

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