Health hazards are chemicals or substances that present a danger to human health. Workers exposed to health hazards are at risk for illness, whereas physical hazards cause bodily damage.
The Globally Harmonized System both classifies and categorizes hazard; the three hazard classes are health hazards, physical hazards, and environmental hazards. The four sub-classes of health hazards are corrosive, toxic, harmful, and irritant. GHS takes it a step further by identifying ten specific health hazards:
- Acute toxicity
- Skin corrosion
- Skin irritation
- Eye effects
- Sensitization (skin or eye)
- Germ cell mutagenicity
- Reproductive toxicity
- Target organ systemic toxicity (single and repeated exposure)
- Aspiration toxicity
Each of these health hazards are then broken down into categories based on severity with categories typically ranging between one and three.
Hazardous chemicals are regulated by OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). Under the HCS, which is aligned with GHS, manufactured/imported substances that pose a health or physical hazard must feature a compliant label and be accompanied by a safety data sheet. An SDS for a health hazard will include detailed first aid information, storage controls, toxicological information, and more.
GHS labels include a hazard statement, a specific code used to communicate quickly. Hazard statements begin with an H, the first number of the code designates the class (health hazard uses the number three), and the second/third number refer to intrinsic properties of the chemical. For example, code H320 refers to a substance that causes eye irritation. Another required element of a GHS label is the use of hazard pictograms. Aside from the specific health hazard pictogram, the skull & crossbones and the exclamation point pictogram are the designated symbols for health hazards. Additionally, the corrosive pictogram is considered both a physical and a health hazard.