10 GHS Facts in 60 Seconds

  1. GHS stands for the Globally Harmonized System of the Classification and Labelling of Chemicals.
  2. It is a set of guidelines for ensuring the safe production, transport, handling, use and disposal of hazardous materials.
  3. The GHS was developed by the United Nations, as a way to bring into agreement the chemical regulations and standards of different countries. In short, it is an international attempt to get everyone on the same page. The hope is that every country will incorporate the tenets of the GHS into their own chemical management systems with the goal of making the international sale and transportation of hazardous chemicals easier, as well as, making workplace conditions safer for all employees exposed to chemical hazards.
  4. The U.S. officially adopted the GHS on March 26, 2012. OSHA’s adoption is actually a revision of the Hazard Communication Standard to align with the GHS. OSHA calls this revision, HazCom 2012.
  5. The GHS is not a global law or regulation– a common misconception – it is a system. Think of it as a set of recommendations or collection of best practices. No country is obligated to adopt all or even any part of the GHS.
  6. Countries can 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.
  7. To date, over 65 countries have adopted GHS or are in the process of adopting GHS.
  8. The most noticeable changes brought by GHS for most organizations will be changes to safety labels, safety data sheets, and chemical classification.
  9. As an example, the GHS refers to safety data sheets as SDSs, dropping the M from material safety data sheets (or MSDSs) as most American companies are 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.
  10. 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 safety data sheets

In the United States, GHS adoption is under the domain of four agencies:

  1. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)
  2. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  3. Department of Transportation (DOT)
  4. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)

OSHA served as the lead U.S. agency on the classification of chemicals and hazard communication and adoption affects over 43 million workers in over 5 million workplaces. The DOT was actually the first agency to implement GHS, and OSHA's adoption brings the regulations between the agencies into greater harmony. The EPA is expected to follow closely on the heels of OSHA's adoption with revisions to its own standards to bring them into alignment with GHS.

Adoption of GHS brings major changes to the HCS, especially around:

  • Hazard classification
  • Labels
  • Safety Data Sheets
  • Training

The biggest costs to businesses will be to:

  • Re-classify all chemicals using GHS criteria
  • Re-author all Safety Data Sheets in GHS formats and produce GHS formatted labels
  • Train workers on new how to read new label and SDS elements, and newly identified hazards

OSHA anticipates the revised standard will prevent 43 fatalities and 585 injuries annually, with a net annualized savings of over $500 million a year.