In 2012, the U.S. adopted the Globally Harmonized System for the Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, or GHS for short.
GHS is designed to effectively communicate chemical hazards uniformly, so that each label and SDS is set up similarly and easy to understand.
All of the compliance deadlines for GHS have passed, meaning that everyone should be in full compliance with GHS, and you should know how to read and understand GHS labels and SDS’s.
This GHS Focus will go a bit more in-depth into what is behind these GHS labels and SDS’s, in terms of hazards, pictograms, and label elements. There are also some special cases you need to be aware of that may cause some confusion when trying to read a GHS label or SDS.
We will focus on those hazards that are most common to chemical cleaners.
First we begin with GHS Hazards.
GHS hazards are divided into three categories:
- Physical Hazards
- Health Hazards
- Environmental Hazards
Each GHS hazard is then further classified into numbered categories, with Category 1 being the most hazardous and each higher number being less hazardous (Category 3 is less hazardous than Category 2).
Here is a rundown of the GHS hazards we most commonly come across when dealing with chemical cleaners.
Flammable Liquids: Flammability is determined by the flash point of a material. The lower the flash point, the more flammable a liquid is considered. A flash point of 93 oC (200 oF) or below is considered flammable.
Corrosive to Metal: Metal corrosion is determined by measuring the change in thickness of a metal (corrosion) over time. If the corrosion exceeds 6.25 mm per year, then the material is considered corrosive to metal.
Acute Toxicity: Acute toxicity means that a material affects your body after exposed by mouth or through the skin. The LD50 value of a chemical determines its acute toxicity. LD50 refers to the Lethal Dose that kills 50% of a sample population.
Skin Corrosion/Irritation: Skin corrosion means that irreversible damage is caused to skin after exposure, while irritation means that reversible damage is caused to skin after exposure. Skin corrosion or irritation is primarily determined by pH level, but other factors, such as human experience or testing data, can also be used.
Eye Corrosion/Irritation: Like skin corrosion and irritation, eye corrosion and irritation are related to irreversible and reversible damage done to the eye upon exposure to a chemical. Eye effects are determined in a very similar way to skin effects (pH, testing data).
Sensitization: A skin sensitizer causes an allergic reaction after skin contact. A respiratory sensitizer causes hypersensitivity in airways after inhalation. Sensitization is determined by human experience and testing data.
Carcinogenicity: A carcinogen is a chemical that causes cancer or increases the likelihood of cancer. A very select few chemical cleaners can contain either known/presumed carcinogens or suspected carcinogens.
Reproductive Toxicity: Reproductive toxicity affects sexual function and fertility. Alcohols are the most common reproductive toxicants (don’t consume alcohol when you’re pregnant!). They are classified similarly to carcinogens: known/presumed reproductive toxicants and suspected reproductive toxicants.
Target Organ Toxicity: Target organ toxicants affect specific organs (kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, etc) after exposure. This hazard is classified by prior human experience.
Although GHS is already in full compliance, taking the time to get to know what we are really dealing with can be very helpful in recognizing the potential risks of chemicals, leading to a safer workplace and environment.
For a more in-depth look at GHS, check out our GHS Technical Bulletin.
For help with GHS training, visit our GHS Training webpage.