Understanding the Global Harmonized System (GHS) for Hazard Communications

Pictured by Kennewick Fire & Ambulance

Whether people are dealing with files, storage bins or safety hazards, they often have different perspectives and opinions in the workplace on how to use labels to communicate with co-workers. When opinions clash, problems with communication can lead to confusion and even harm, especially when dealing with hazardous materials at a work site or during transport across state, national and international borders. A unified labeling system helps everyone to communicate more clearly and effectively.

GHS Creation

In 2003, members of the United Nations recognized that there were far too many competing labeling systems for hazardous materials around the world. They agreed that a single system of classification was needed to reduce risks associated with handling hazardous materials. They called this system the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). By 2009, the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) took steps to bring its own standards in line with the GHS.

GHS Compliance

Nations who agreed to the new standard were provided deadlines for taking action. OSHA informed businesses that the new OSHA labels and rules would go into effect in June 2015. Business owners had until December 2013 to train employees on how to read and use the updated labels and safety data sheets. By December 2016, business owners were required to train their employees again on any changes made as new health hazards and workplace requirements became known to OSHA.

GHS Labels

Businesses must use agreed upon labeling standards from the Global Harmonized System domestically and internationally to prevent confusion. These labels must display diamond shapes with specific interior and border colors and unified images, words and statements designed to define the type of hazard and the level of risk. The labeling system is designed to address health, physical and environmental hazards. Labels and related materials might also feature safety precaution statements designed to advise people on how to handle, store, dispose of and respond to emergencies related to a hazardous material.

GHS Locations

The GHS wasn’t merely designed to cover raw and pure hazardous materials. This global communication system also applies to hazardous mixed materials. Consumers might find a GHS warning, for example, on consumer products or related packaging. These labels also appear in various areas on trucks and other vehicles used to transport any item that might contain hazardous materials like pesticides and chemistry or pharmaceutical ingredients.

GHS Daily

You can find GHS labels and safety data sheets outside of the workplace in many public areas. Students might see posters that explain GHS requirements in a high school or college chemistry class. Local U.S. Post Offices typically have GHS-approved posters that display the types of hazardous materials that the USPS does not ship near customer service desks. Additional posters nearby often feature GHS and permitted alternative label options to describe the type of hazardous materials sometimes allowed in certain situations.