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What is GHS?

GHS is an acronym for the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, a framework that standardizes the classification and labeling of chemicals worldwide. Its goal is to establish criteria for the classification of health, physical and environmental hazards, and specify what information should be included on hazard labels as well as safety data sheets. As a global standard, GHS encourages individual countries to implement hazard classes and categories in their legislation.

History

Raw chemicals are routinely used worldwide. From initial production through final disposal, many of these chemicals pose a threat to humans and to the environment. Historically, most countries have implemented some form or another of regulating chemical hazards. This has resulted in numerous standards with many discrepancies. For instance, one country might designate a chemical as toxic while another country might consider that same substance nontoxic. Different classification systems can even be found within the same country. Add differing languages and alphabets to the mix and it’s clear that the time has come to establish a global standard.

The United Nations adopted GHS following the 1992 UN Conference on the Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The International Labour Organization (ILO), The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and governments from all over the world cooperated to create and promote a universal standard to classify of health, physical, and environmental hazards.

GHS Implementation Timeline (United States)

Date Requirement Applies to
December 1st, 2013 Train all employees on the new label elements and Safety Data Sheet (SDS) Format Employers
June 1st, 2015 Chemical manufacturers, importers, and employers must comply with all modified provisions of this rule (distributors that are allowed to ship products labeled by manufacturers under the old system up until Dec. 1, 2015) Chemical manufacturers, importers, and employers
December 1st, 2015 Distributors must comply with all modified provisions of this final rule. Chemical distributors
June 1st, 2016 Update alternative workplace labeling and hazard communication program as necessary, and provide additional employee training for newly identified physical or health hazards Employers

Enforcement Guidelines (United States)

On February 9, 2015 the United States Department of Labor issued a memo titled Enforcement Guidance for the Hazard Communication Standard’s (HCS) June 1, 2015 Effective Date. The memo details the Department of Labor’s enforcement position and how the June 1, 2015 effective date will impact manufacturers, distributors, and employers. Guidelines and clarifications include the following:

Manufacturers that have made reasonable and good faith efforts to meet the June 1, 2015 effective date, but have not been able to comply due to circumstances outside of their control, will be allowed a reasonable time period to come into compliance.

Following the December 1, 2015 distributors deadline, distributors can not ship using the old (HCS 1994-compliant) labels unless the distributor’s supplier falls into the above category, i.e., suppliers that have made reasonable and good faith efforts to meet the June 1, 2015 effective date, but have not been able to comply due to circumstances outside of their control.

Employers that have not received updated SDSs or labels for some of the hazardous chemicals they use in their business will not be cited by OSHA. However, Once they receive the new (HCS 2012-compliant) SDSs, they must maintain them.

GHS Pictograms and Hazard Classes

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals utilizes two sets of pictograms. One for workplace hazards, and a second for the transportation of dangerous goods.

Physical Hazards Pictograms

GHS Hazard Pictogram Hazard Class & Hazard Category
Explosive GHS explosive pictogram
  • Unstable Explosives
  • Explosives, Divisions 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4
  • Self-reactive Substances and Mixtures, Types A, B
  • Organic peroxides, types A, B
Flammable GHS flamable pictogram
  • Flammable gases, category 1
  • Flammable aerosols, categories 1, 2
  • Flammable liquids, categories 1, 2, 3
  • Flammable solids, categories 1, 2
  • Self-reactive substances and mixtures, types B, C, D, E, F
  • Pyrophoric liquids, category 1
  • Pyrophoric solids, category 1
  • Self-heating substances and mixtures, categories 1, 2
  • Substances and mixtures, which in contact with water, emit flammable gases, categories 1, 2, 3
  • Organic peroxides, types B, C, D, E, F
Oxidizing GHS oxidizing pictogram
  • Oxidizing Gases, Category 1
  • Oxidizing Liquids, Categories 1, 2, 3
  • Oxidizing Solids, Categories 1, 2, 3
Compressed Gas GHS Compressed Gas pictogram
  • Compressed Gases
  • Liquefied Gases
  • Refrigerated Liquefied Gases
  • Dissolved Gases
Corrosive GHS Corrosive pictogram
  • Corrosive to Metals, Category 1

Health hazards pictograms

GHS Hazard Pictogram Hazard Class & Hazard Category
Toxic GHS toxic pictogram
  • Acute Toxicity (oral, dermal, inhalation), Categories 1, 2, 3
Corrosive GHS corrosive pictogram
  • Skin Corrosion, Categories 1A, 1B, 1C
  • Serious Eye Damage, Category 1
Irritant GHS irritant pictogram
  • Acute Toxicity (oral, dermal, inhalation), Category 4
  • Skin Irritation, Categories 2, 3
  • Eye Irritation, Category 2A
  • Skin Sensitization, Category 1
  • Specific Target Organ Toxicity Following Single Exposure, Category 3
  • Respiratory Tract Irritation
  • Narcotic Effects
Health Hazard GHS health hazard pictogram
  • Respiratory Sensitization, Category 1
  • Germ Cell Mutagenicity, Categories 1A, 1B, 2
  • Carcinogenicity, Categories 1A, 1B, 2
  • Reproductive toxicity, categories 1A, 1B, 2
  • Specific Target Organ Toxicity Following Single Exposure, Categories 1, 2
  • Specific Target Organ Toxicity Following Repeated Exposure, Categories 1, 2
  • Aspiration Hazard, Categories 1, 2

Environmental Hazards Pictograms

GHS Hazard Pictogram Hazard Class & Hazard Category
Environ-
mentally
Damaging
GHS environmentally damaging pictogram
  • Acute hazards to the aquatic environment, category 1
  • Chronic hazards to the aquatic environment, categories 1, 2

Transport Pictograms

Class 1: Explosives

GHS Hazard Pictogram Hazard Class & Hazard Category
Divisions 1.1–1.3 Divisions 1.1–1.3 GHS pictogram

Explosives

  • Division 1.1: Substances and articles which have a mass explosion hazard
  • Division 1.2: Substances and articles which have a projection hazard but not a mass explosion hazard
  • Division 1.3: Substances and articles which have a fire hazard and either a minor blast hazard or a minor projection hazard or both, but not a mass explosion hazard
Division 1.4 Division 1.4 GHS pictogram

Explosives

  • Substances and articles which are classified as explosives but which present no significant hazard
Division 1.5 Division 1.5 GHS pictogram

Explosives

  • Very insensitive substances which have a mass explosion hazard
Division 1.6 Division 1.6 GHS pictogram

Explosives

  • No hazard statement

Class 2: Gases

GHS Hazard Pictogram Hazard Class & Hazard Category
Division 2.1 Division 2.1 GHS pictogram

Flammable Gases

  • Gases which at 20 °C and a standard pressure of 101.3 kPa:
    • are ignitable when in a mixture of 13 per cent or less by volume with air; or
    • have a flammable range with air of at least 12 percentage points regardless of the lower flammable limit.
Division 2.2 Division 2.2 GHS pictogram

Non-flammable Non-toxic Gases

  • Gases which are asphyxiant – gases which dilute or replace the oxygen normally in the atmosphere.
  • Gases which are oxidizing – gases which may, generally by providing oxygen, cause or contribute to the combustion of other material more than air does.
  • Gases which do not come under the other divisions.
Division 2.3 Division 2.3 GHS pictogram

Toxic Gases

  • Gases which are known to be so toxic or corrosive to humans as to pose a hazard to health.
  • Gases which are presumed to be toxic or corrosive to humans because they have an LC50 value equal to or less than 5000 ml/m3 (ppm).

Classes 3 and 4: Flammable Liquids and Solids

GHS Hazard Pictogram Hazard Class & Hazard Category
Class 3 Class 3 GHS pictogram

Flammable Liquids

  • Liquids which have a flash point of less than 60 °C and which are capable of sustaining combustion.
Division 4.1 Division 4.1 GHS pictogram

Flammable Solids, Self-reactive Substances and Solid Desensitized Explosives

  • Solids which, under conditions encountered in transport, are readily combustible or may cause or contribute to fire through friction; self-reactive substances which are liable to undergo a strongly exothermic reaction; solid desensitized explosives which may explode if not diluted sufficiently.
Division 4.2 Division 4.2 GHS pictogram

Substances Liable to Spontaneous Combustion

  • Substances which are liable to spontaneous heating under normal conditions encountered in transport, or to heating up in contact with air, and being then liable to catch fire.
Division 4.3 Division 4.3 GHS pictogram

Substances Which in Contact with Water Emit Flammable Gases

  • Substances which, by interaction with water, are liable to become spontaneously flammable or to give off flammable gases in dangerous quantities.

Other GHS Transport Classes

GHS Hazard Pictogram Hazard Class & Hazard Category
Division 5.1 Division 5.1 GHS pictogram

    Oxidizing substances

  • Substances which, while in themselves not necessarily combustible, may, generally by yielding oxygen, cause, or contribute to, the combustion of other material.
Division 5.2 Division 5.2 GHS pictogram

Organic Peroxides

  • Organic substances which contain the bivalent –O–O– structure and may be considered derivatives of hydrogen peroxide, where one or both of the hydrogen atoms have been replaced by organic radicals.
Division 6.1 Division 6.1 GHS pictogram

Toxic Substances

  • Substances with an LD50 value ≤ 300 mg/kg (oral) or ≤ 1000 mg/kg (dermal) or an LC50 value ≤ 4000 ml/m3 (inhalation of dusts or mists)
Class 8 Class 8 GHS pictogram

Corrosive Substances

  • Substances which cause full thickness destruction of intact skin tissue on exposure time of less than 4 hours.
  • Substances which exhibit a corrosion rate of more than 6.25 mm per year on either steel or aluminium surfaces at 55 °C.

GHS Labeling

As of June 1, 2015, GHS labels require pictograms, signal words, hazard and precautionary statements, product identifiers, and supplier identifications. The label can also include supplemental information as needed.

Sample GHS label

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