GHS stands for the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. It is a set of guidelines that provides specific criteria for two processes: hazard classification and hazard communication. GHS is not an organization; it is a system that countries around the world are adopting into their existing hazard communication programs. Until recently, there was no single organization regulating how to define a substance as corrosive, flammable, or hazardous in another way; likewise, there was no single organization regulating how that hazard was communicated to the end user of a product. Different countries and organizations, such as OSHA, have created their own laws regarding hazard communication (Right to Know), but these laws don’t always coincide with each other. A chemical that is defined as flammable in one country may not be defined as flammable in another. One company may put flammability information on the front of a label, while another company may put flammability information on the back of a label. In the event of an emergency, such as a fire or large chemical spill, wasting time searching the label or MSDS for guidance on what to do can make a dangerous situation even more dangerous. The goal of GHS is to harmonize the way hazardous information is defined and presented throughout the world, which ultimately will better protect the end user.
To determine which hazard classes a chemical is categorized into, GHS provides criteria based on physical properties and existing data about the product, such as toxicity values or biodegradability. There are three different hazard classes. Physical hazards include explosives, flammables, and oxidizers. Health hazards include skin and eye irritation, target organ toxicity, and reproductive toxicity. Environmental hazards include aquatic toxicity and ozone layer hazards. These subsets of the hazard class are called hazard categories. Within each hazard category, a chemical is then further classified based on its severity using a numbering system. Category 1 is the most severe and Category 5 is the least severe.
Once a product is classified, GHS sets criteria for labels and safety data sheets. Each product label must have the following six components:
The product identifier includes the name of the product and its primary use.
The product supplier includes the name and contact information of the supplier or manufacturer.
The signal word can be one of two options: Warning or Danger. Warning signifies a slightly hazardous product, while Danger will be on the labels of more hazardous products. If the hazard of a product is very small or nonexistant, a signal word is not required.
Hazard pictograms are small icons that provide a visual identification of the hazard. For more information about pictograms, see the upcoming blog post on Hazard Pictograms.
Hazard statements provide more detailed information about a product’s hazards. Precautionary statements elaborate further and tell the user how to protect him or herself before, while, and after using the product.
GHS also outlines criteria for Safety Data Sheets, or SDS. In addition to removing the word ‘Material’ from Material Safety Data Sheets, GHS created a 16-section format for SDS to follow. For more information on SDS, see the upcoming blog post on Safety Data Sheets.
Check out the Multi-Clean GHS Training Program webpage for PowerPoint presentations and other resources for training employees and customers on GHS formatted labels and safety data sheets. This program can be used to train a large group or for self-training.