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The Globally Harmonized System


What is GHS?

Familiarize yourself on how GHS affects you and what you need to fully comply and implement it properly in your facilities.

GHS, or Globally Harmonized System, is a world regulation for classifying and communicating chemical hazards. Hazard communication experts around the world worked to create this new global standard based on major existing systems including the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). By implementing GHS guidelines into the revised HCS, OSHA has expanded the “right to know” into the “right to understand.” Adoption of GHS brings the U.S. into alignment with an international standard. If you are a manufacturer, supplier, or a user of chemicals, you are required to comply with GHS. (OSHA 29 CFR 1910.1200 Hazard Communication Standard).

The Globally Harmonized System

Goals of GHS

The goal of this new system is to more effectively communicate chemical hazards to improve the safety and health of our workers. GHS is expected to prevent more than 500 workplace injuries and illnesses and 45 fatalities every year. It will also improve international trade conditions for chemical manufacturers, enhance worker comprehension of hazards (especially with low and limited literacy workers), reduce confusion, facilitate safety training, and result in safer handling and use of chemicals. GHS provides quicker, more efficient access to SDS information, cost savings through productivity improvements, fewer SDS and label updates, and simpler hazcom training.

What are the major changes with GHS?

There are three main areas in the existing HCS which have changed with the adoption of GHS: hazard classification, labels, and safety data sheets.

Hazard classification (formerly hazard determination) is one of the major areas of change. Definitions of hazard now provide specific criteria for classification of health, physical, and environmental chemical hazards along with the classification of mixtures. The current Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) provides parameters for evaluation, but doesn’t give specific, detailed criteria. The revised HCS, on the other hand, has specific criteria for each health and physical hazard, plus detailed instructions for evaluation. This new method of evaluation is covered in the required GHS training. The revised HCS also establishes hazard classes and categories. A class describes the different hazards. For example, “Gases under Pressure” is an example of a class in the physical hazards group. Categories are used to describe the sub-sections of classes. For example, “Self-Reactive Chemicals” has seven categories. Each category has rules or criteria to determine which chemicals are assigned to that category.

Standardized labels for hazard classes and categories will now be required. Previously, label preparation could be done in a variety of ways with the method being left to the preparer. Under the revised HCS, once classification has been done, the standard will specify what should go on the label. According to the revised HCS, labels will now require the following:
  • A pictogram, which is the GHS symbol on the label and SDS (there are nine.) Not all categories will have an associated symbol.

  • A signal word, which indicates the relative severity of the hazard. There are only two: danger (more severe hazards) and warning (less severe.)

  • A hazard statement, which is a description of the nature of the hazards of the chemical. There is a hazard statement for each category of a class. For example, for chemicals in the “Self-heating substances and mixtures” class (category 1), the hazard statement would be “Self-heating; may catch fire.” This would appear on both the label and the SDS.

  • A precautionary statement describing recommended measures to minimize or prevent adverse effects resulting from exposure to, improper storage of, or handling of a hazardous chemical.

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