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Your Guide to GHS

What Is GHS?

GHS stands for the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. It was originally proposed in 1992 at the "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and now after several years of development it is an international agreement brokered through the United Nations. The GHS is a system to standardize the way hazardous materials are classified. The idea is that the same criteria will be used all over the world to determine if a material is flammable, toxic or corrosive and so on. We are then assured that if a material is considered toxic in China it will also be so in the USA, Europe, Brazil and elsewhere around the Globe. The GHS also harmonizes the way hazards are communicated by means of Warning Labels and Safety Data Sheets. Before the GHS different countries each had their own standards for determining what was hazardous and each had its own unique system for communicating these hazards. This created confusion and expense for companies manufacturing, using and selling their products across national borders, further requiring that each chemical be re-classified for that specific market. The GHS is intended to replace these multiple systems with a single unified approach.


Who Will Be Affected by GHS?

If you are a manufacturer, supplier or a user of chemicals big changes are ahead! Soon, if not already, you will be required to comply with new laws, regulations or directives for the classification and labeling of hazardous materials. The timelines for compliance are short.

In most jurisdictions the unified GHS approach will be applied to:

  • Workplace chemicals
  • Consumer chemicals (Not in USA at this time)
  • Pesticides (Not in USA at this time)
  • Products regulated under the transportation of dangerous goods (changes completed in USA)


So not only will systems be harmonized from country to country, they will be harmonized from sector to sector (consumer, transport and workplace) within each country. In the United States alone it is estimated that 5 million workplaces will be affected, with training required for more than 40 million workers. A similar, if not larger impact, can be expected in Europe.

What exactly must be done to comply with GHS?

While there may be slight differences in implementation from country to country, we can expect the basic requirements to be the same worldwide these will be: The classification of all chemicals according to the new GHS criteria. Manufacturers and suppliers must not assume that because a material was not considered hazardous under the existing system it will escape classification in the GHS. By and large the GHS criteria are broader than existing standards and will therefore 'capture' more materials.The preparation of new labels. The GHS has standardized the format of labels so that all will have the same headings. Standard phrases must be used to describe the various hazards.

The standard GHS label is designed to:

  • Identification of the substance
  • Hazard identification
  • Composition/ingredients
  • First-aid measures
  • Fire fighting measures
  • Accidental release measures
  • Handling and storage
  • Exposure controls/personal protection
  • Physical and chemical properties
  • Stability and reactivity
  • Toxicological information
  • Ecological information
  • Disposal considerations
  • Transportation information
  • Regulatory information
  • Other information dates/revision


***Note that European SDSs require the Preparation Date of the SDS and any amendments made to be at the top of the first page. Training of Employees. Almost certainly the largest task in GHS implementation will be the safety training of employees. The GHS is more complex than previous hazard communication systems. There are 3 main hazard groups Physical, Health and Environmental. These groups are subdivided into various hazard "classes" (Physical =16 classes, Health =10 classes and Environmental =2 classes). In addition the various "classes" are subdivided yet again into hazard "categories" depending on whether they are serious or less serious hazards. This complexity requires that any training be carefully planned. In particular it must be able to turn complex terms and concepts into everyday understandable language. Programs offering training in several different languages will be in demand.

Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA speaks on the Revised Hazard Communication Standard.


When will GHS Start?

It has already begun in many places around the world. In the U.S.A., implementation of GHS into OSHA’s HazCom rule is well under way, with the first enforcement date in 2013. The chart below lists OSHA’s complete timetable for full implantation.

Australia, China, Japan and New Zealand have essentially completed the main stages of implementation. Malaysia and Indonesia are well on their way. All of Europe is well advanced in implementing the GHS, some parts of which are incorporated into the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) initiative. Canada has started and has set goals for completion in 2015. Time lines for compliance, particularly the education component, will likely be tight.

Global GHS Implementation-January 2012


Training & Resource Services

Training options that we offering including video, self-taught, in-house trainers, on-site training and web based training models. The complete documentation for these standards can be found in the United Nations "Purple Book" Third Revised Edition. This is a technically written document available directly from the UN book store. Please feel free to contact us with any questions you may have or discuss how to start to implement a GHS compliant hazard communication program in your facility. You can reach us by email at: training@ghssafety.com.

Other resources are available at the OSHA website. Click here for more information.