GHS stands for the Globally Harmonized System of the Classification and Labelling of Chemicals.
It is a set of guidelines for ensuring the safe production, transport, handling, use and disposal of hazardous materials.
The GHS was developed by the United Nations (UN) as a way to align the chemical regulations and standards of different countries. In short, it is an international effort to get everyone on the same page in terms of chemical hazard communication. The goal is that every country will incorporate the principles of the GHS into their own chemical management standards tofacilitateeasier international sale and transportation of hazardous chemicals, and make workplaces safer for all employees exposed to chemical hazards.
US OSHA officially adopted the GHS on March 26, 2012. OSHA’s adoption revised the Hazard Communication Standard to align with the GHS. OSHA calls this revision, HazCom 2012.
The GHS is not a law or regulation that can be enforced. Think of it as a set of recommendations or collection of best practices. No country or regulatory agency is obligated to adopt all or even any part of the GHS.
Governments and individual regulatory agenciescan pick and choose those pieces of the GHS they wish to incorporate into their own regulations (this is called the building block approach). Each adopting country is solely responsible for its enforcement within its jurisdiction.
To date, over 83 countries have adopted GHS or are in the process of adopting GHS.
The most noticeable changes brought by GHS for most organizations are changes to hazardous chemical container labels, safety data sheet (SDS) information, and chemical hazard classifications.
As an example, the GHS refers to safety data sheets as SDSs, dropping the M from the old name of “material safety data sheets” (or MSDSs) most American companies had been used to. The GHS also standardizes the content and formatting of SDSs into 16 sections with a strict ordering. Labels also look quite different, with 6 standardized elements that include specific language depending upon chemical classification.
GHS is meant to be a logical and comprehensive approach to:
Defining health, physical and environmental hazards of chemicals (although environmental hazards are outside OSHA’s jurisdiction)
Creating classification processes that use available data on chemicals for comparison with the defined hazard criteria
Communicating hazard information in a prescribed and uniform way on labels and SDSs