What are the two major elements in the Globally Harmonized System?

Given the full title of GHS, the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, the two key components of GHS are Classification and Labeling. Almost twenty years ago, the United Nations officially adopted this universally accepted system to avoid confusion around hazard communication.

A Harmonized System of Classification

OSHA aligned their Hazard Communication Standard with GHS in 2012, which provides specific criteria (or classes) for classification of health and physical hazards, as well as classification of mixtures. The three major hazard groups are:

  • Health hazards
  • Physical hazards
  • Environmental hazards

Within each of these groups are classes and categories that further describe the hazards associated with a dangerous chemical. For example, to classify a chemical as a health hazard, it would have to fit within one of the approved health hazard class, such as skin corrosion or carcinogenicity.

A Universal Standard for Labeling

The other key component of GHS is all about labels and safety data sheets. Together, these two pieces of hazard communication is all an employee needs to understand hazards of a chemical, as well as proper storage, and protection measures that should be taken when handling the chemical. GHS specifies a 16-section format for ac compliant safety data sheet (SDS) that will provide the necessary information to create a label that is required to include:

  • Signal word: 'Danger' or 'Warning' printed clearly across the top of the label.
  • Pictogram: A hazard pictogram consists of a symbol on a white background with a red border representing a specific hazard as determined by the chemical hazard classification.
  • Hazard statements: In GHS, hazard classes and categories are designated standard phrases to describe the nature and severity of a chemical. For example, the code H317 corresponds with the hazard statement 'may cause an allergic skin reaction.'
  • Precautionary statements: Similar to hazards statements, precautionary statements are a list of P-codes that reference a standard phrase describing measures to minimize or prevent adverse effects of a chemical. P262, for instance, corresponds with the precautionary statement 'do not get in eyes, on skin, or on clothing.'

Classification and standardized labeling are the core of the Globally Harmonized System. By encouraging countries around the world to follow the set of rules for classifying hazards, and the same format and content for labels and safety data sheets—GHS works to ensure the safe use of chemicals and preventing occupational injuries and illnesses all across the globe.


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