A Better Way to Communicate: Globally Harmonized System (GHS)

Prior to 2012, the Hazard Communication Standard, as we knew it, remained somewhat of a mystery. It was difficult to teach and even more difficult to learn due to the lack of consistency and uniformity. Non-compliance seemed to be a result of a failure to understand more so than a willful lack of care.

The OSHA rules in place gave users, transporters and manufacturers the right to know about the chemicals they may be exposed to while performing their jobs; but they did not provide a means for the right to understand. Manufacturer’s labels lacked pertinent information, chemicals were incorrectly classified, and material safety data sheets were outdated, in no specific format, and difficult to read. Employers needed a simpler way of communicating so that employees would be aware of chemical hazards and understand how to protect themselves.

The United Nations developed the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) to provide a better way of communicating chemical hazards with internationally recognized regulations and standards. GHS provides a common language and a logical approach to reduce fatalities, injuries and accidents around the globe.

GHS is not a global law or regulation; but rather a collection of best practices aimed at improving the way we communicate hazards. It is a voluntary system used by 65 countries. No country is obligated to adopt all or even any part of the GHS. Each country can pick and choose the elements of the GHS that they wish to incorporate into their own regulations and is solely responsible for the enforcement within its own jurisdiction. The United States officially adopted the GHS in 2012.

The most noticeable changes brought on by the GHS includes the following elements:

  • New Safety Labels: pictograms, signal word, hazard statements, company contact information
  • Updated Safety Data Sheets (formally Material Safety Data Sheets): 16 section-format
  • Hazard re-classification using GHS criteria
  • Required training on the GHS changes

OSHA estimates that the GHS system can prevent approximately 50 fatalities and 600 injuries annually, with a net annual savings of over $500 million per year. Manufacturers have done their part by re-classifying their chemicals, creating new labels, and providing updated SDS sheets. Training, and sometimes retraining, about this system is critical. TMC provides Pictogram definitions in our OSHA manual in the Hazard Communication section. Call us today if you have any questions about these standards, or just need a training review!