What is GHS?

GHS Container LabelsHazardous chemicals are being shipped and manufactured all over the world and it is important everyone understands the chemicals they’re handling. The solution is GHS, the Globally Harmonized System, a set of universal HazCom standards.

Prior to GHS there was a variety of regulations, standards, and classifications for the same hazardous chemical. The goal of this global system is to create a harmonized system and keep everyone informed and on the same page.

Originally developed by the United Nations in 1992, GHS was created to bring greater agreement for chemical standards and regulations for people and companies around the world working together. Although often used in the United States, it wasn’t until OSHA updated their Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) in 2012 to be in line with the Globally Harmonized System that GHS became a standard for every workplace in the country.

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals has a direct impact on hazard classification, labeling requirements, safety data sheets, data collection, and employee training. The foundation of an effective hazard communication system with GHS is the proper classification of hazards. Having an accurate classification will ensure labels and safety data sheets are compliant.

Labeling for GHS

GHS labels have specific required components to them including a product identifier, a signal word, a GHS pictogram, a hazard statement, a precautionary statement, and supplier information. These labels are intended to convey and communicate a good chunk of important information about the chemical with just a glance at the label. Employees will be able to identify the chemical, understand the severity of damage, and know precautions/first aid when handling the chemical.

Another update to the HazCom requirements is the shift from Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to Safety Data Sheets (SDS). These sheets are the same in the sense that they are both documents that outline the dangers, composition, disposal, and safe handling of hazardous chemicals and substances. The difference of the two is that only the format of SDS’s are aligned with GHS. Switching from MSDS to SDS is to primarily create a simpler, more effective way to communicate the hazards of the chemical at hand.

Just like any other strategy in the workplace, if employees don’t thoroughly understand or follow the standard, then the Globally Harmonized System is virtually useless. It is essential to train workers on how to read GHS labels and the accompanying Safety Data Sheet as well as understanding the GHS program in your specific facility.

While there are many, and sometimes confusing, standards and regulations of GHS, it can greatly affect the safety of a workplace. Implementing and keeping up with GHS standards will keep not only your workers safe, but also the surrounding community. It is important to really understand how to use GHS in your facility and stay in compliance with OSHA’s HazCom standards.

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