Preparing for the GHS Changeover

What is GHS?

The Globally Harmonized System (GHS) is a global approach to hazard communication. It is  one unified system around the globe that will now be used to classify chemical hazards,  label elements, and create safety data sheets.

The GHS implementation will be a gradual process phased in over the next few years as agreed upon by hazard communication experts from around the world. It is largely based on several existing systems around the globe, including OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) and the chemical classification and labeling systems of other US agencies.

Seeing that the U.S. is one of the largest importers and exporters of chemicals, it made sense to adopt GHS standards into the current HCS that OSHA mandates. With one unified system, the risk of confusion and injury is lowered significantly.

Revising OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard will improve the quality and consistency of hazard information, making it safer for workers to do their jobs and easier for employers to stay competitive — US Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis


Guide to the changes

The following list is a quick overview of the changes being applied to the HCS to conform to GHS standards.

  • Hazard classification: Provides specific criteria for classification of health and physical hazards, as well as mixtures.
  • Labels: Chemical manufacturers and importers will be required to provide a label that includes a harmonized signal word, pictogram, and hazard statement for each hazard class and category, and a precautionary statement.
  • Safety Data Sheets: All SDS’s will now have a specified 16-section format.

Dates to remember

Effective Completion Date Requirement(s) Who
December 1 2013 Train employees on the new label elements and safety data sheet (SDS) format. Employers
December 1 2015 The distributor shall not ship containers labeled by the chemical manufacturer or importer unless it is a GHS label Chemical manufacturers importers distributors and employers
June 1 2016 Update alternative workplace labeling and hazard communication program as necessary. Provide additional employee training for newly identified physical or health hazards Employers

While the phase in period will take some time it should be noted that employers will still be required to be in compliance with either the old or the new HSC. OSHA will not require employers to maintain two sets of labels and SDS’s for compliance purposes even though there will be a time when both are present in the workplace.

New Label Requirements

Example of pictogram. Exclamation Mark.
Example of pictogram.

The new label requirements are expected to affect US based companies the most. There are approximately 90,000 establishments that will need to adjust their systems accordingly. The following is an in depth look at the new labeling system.

  • Pictogram: a symbol plus other graphic elements, such as a border, background pattern, or color that is intended to convey specific information about the hazards of a chemical. Each pictogram consists of a different symbol on a white background within a red square frame set on a point. There are a total of nine pictograms under the GHS.
  • Signal Words: a signal word is used to indicate the relative level of severity of a hazard and alert the reader to a potential hazard on the label. The signal words used are “danger” and “warning.” “Danger” will be used for more severe hazards, while “warning” will be used for less severe hazards.
  • Hazard Statement: is a statements assigned to a hazard class and category that describes the nature of the hazard(s) of a chemical, including, where appropriate, the degree of the hazard.
  • Precautionary Statement: is a phrase that describes the recommended measures to take in order to minimize or prevent adverse effects resulting from exposure to a hazardous chemical, improper storage or handling of a hazardous chemical.

OSHA believes that the alignment of the HCS with the GHS will improve quality and consistency of hazard information in the workplace. Occupational safety is always a concern when dealing with hazardous materials. The new system will provide easily understandable information that will be globally universal.

Additional Resources