By Bill Barnhart
Two new sets of regulations concerning storage of chemicals and reporting energy usage will impact the way companies like AffinEco do business. In the short-term, there will be added cost, effort and paperwork. The long-term goals of the regulations are to make companies more environmentally clean, safer and perhaps even save money along the way.
In December 2013, new Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) regulations will go into effect, prompting a change not only in the way workers report what chemicals are on-site, but also what safety requirements are in place for dealing with those chemicals. That means AffinEco Safety Coordinator Hytmer Hernandez has less than six months to get his workers trained in new systems.
Currently, there is no consistency in the way different countries treat chemical regulation. The Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), which accompany chemicals in the workplace, vary from country to country. The new Globally Harmonized System for Chemical Information and Labeling (GHS) is a worldwide effort to bring countries into a standard practice of safe chemical identification.
“Right now, the U.S., Canada, South America—everyone is doing their own thing,” said Hernandez, who recently took a Web seminar on the upcoming changes. “The GHS is a global approach to labeling in a universal system. Everywhere in the world, the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) will be the same.”
But it’s more than just a name change from MSDS to SDS.
The new regulations require more extensive identification, additional details on how to handle an emergency with the chemicals and changes to the grading scale for determining how dangerous a specific substance may be. Hernandez chuckled as he explained that the old hazard danger was labeled from 0 (least dangerous) to 4 (severe). The new regulations change the scale to 1-5 with 1 being the most dangerous—a complete flip-flop from what is currently used.
The SDS will be required to be on-site and readily available to employees and emergency personnel. Information will include safety procedures for handling the chemicals, physical data (melting point, boiling point, flash point), toxicity, reactivity, safe storage and other information to promote positive product stewardship.
“It’s a big step for the U.S., but it’s not going to be easy,” Hernandez said. “We can hardly understand this (system), and now it will be even harder. But I see what they’re trying to do, bring the whole world into one system. That’s the intent, to keep employees safe by protecting and instructing the user.”
Many companies with heavy business in chemicals are already trying to get ahead of the new regulations. AffinEco gets some of its cleaning products from Grainger Inc. On its website, Grainger has made all of its Safety Data Sheets easy to find and access.
But there are some grey areas still to be worked out. Who is responsible for producing the SDS? The manufacturer? The middleman? The user? What about training for workers?
“We’re a green company, so we don’t use most of the toxic stuff,” Hernandez said. “And most likely we’ll have the SDS sheets (from the manufacturers). It’s all going to be very hard. We have to learn a new language and come up with materials and training.”
Reporting Energy Usage
In February, Boston joined New York City, Washington D.C., Philadelphia and San Francisco as major U.S. cities requiring residential and commercial properties to report energy and water usage. Building owners are wary because producing such specific data could be costly, entail additional red tape and end up forcing extensive improvements leading to higher rents.
In an interview with the Boston Globe, Gregory Vasil, Chief Executive of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, said, “Everyone wants to be first in the nation in environmental efficiency, but before we’re the lemming falling off the cliff, we have to ask, ‘What does this really do? Is there an actual benefit?’”
Building owners in Boston will also responsible for providing annual greenhouse gas emission numbers.
New York City became the first in the nation to release private-sector building energy information when it posted results from 2,065 large commercial properties in 2011. In both New York and Boston, the reporting plan is executed in stages—with the biggest office and apartment buildings first, followed by smaller buildings.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, residential and commercial buildings account for “41% of all energy consumption and 72% of electricity consumption.” The Institute for Market Transformation (IMT), an energy-efficiency non-profit, attributes 75% of NYC’s total emissions to energy use in buildings.
New York City is in its fourth year collecting data for its “Greener, Greater Buildings Plan” and benchmark numbers already gathered have shown “energy-use intensity varies dramatically among the same types of buildings, with the worst-performing buildings using three to five times the amount of energy per square foot as the best. Consequently, there is the potential to save tremendous amounts of energy by improving the efficiency of the poor performers,” according to IMT.