GHS (Globally Harmonized System) for Hazard Classification and Labeling Chemicals

  • What is the GHS?
  • Background of Globally Harmonized System (GHS) as a Global Solution
  • Hazards covered by the GHS
  • Benefits of GHS Adoption

What is the GHS?

Global Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) is an internationally agreed system to standardize chemical hazard classification. It is not a formal treaty, instead is a non-legally binding international agreement. Therefore, countries across the world must create either local or national legislation to adopt GHS.

The GHS’s main objectives are to ensure that critical information regarding the hazardous properties of chemicals is available to enhance the safety of human health and the environment regarding the handling, transportation, and use of all chemicals. GHS is known to provide the basis for harmonizing the regulations for chemicals on not just a national but a worldwide level.

The GHS was developed over more than a decade and will continue to evolve and covers all hazardous chemical substances within various industries including pharmaceuticals, food additives, cosmetics, and pesticide residues in food.

Background of Globally Harmonized System as a Global Solution

It was the United Nations that decided to take on the task of developing a method that would be universal for the use of chemical labeling and hazardous warnings for the use, transport, and disposal of dangerous chemicals.

It was at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro Brazil 1992 which resulted in an international mandate to create,

“a globally harmonized hazard classification and compatible labeling system, including material safety data sheets and easily understandable symbols “– this is what is abbreviated to the ‘GHS’.

[1]The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals is the result of more than a decade’s worth of work, which involved many different individuals from a multitude of countries, stakeholders, and international organizations. Some of their work spanned a broad range of expertise which included toxicology, to fire protection to achieve a solution.

Therefore, some of the reasons for setting the objective of harmonization were many. It was widely anticipated that once GHS is implemented it will,

  • Enhance the protection of human health and the environment by providing an internationally comprehensible system for hazard communication.
  • Provide a recognized framework for those countries without an existing system
  • Reduce the need for testing and evaluation of chemicals; and
  • Facilitate international trade in chemicals whose hazards have been properly assessed and identified on an international basis.

[1] Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) Eighth revised edition United Nations 2019

Hazards covered by the GHS

The Globally Harmonized System covers all hazardous chemicals, which are divided into three major groups:

  • Physical Hazards

Explosives, Flammable gases, Aerosols and chemicals under pressure, oxidizing gases, Gases under pressure, Flammable liquids, Flammable solids, Self-reactive substances and mixtures, Pyrophoric liquids, pyrophoric solids, Self-heating substances and mixtures, substances and mixtures which, in contact with water, emit flammable gases, oxidizing liquids, Oxidizing solids, Organic peroxides, Corrosive to metals, Desensitized explosives.

  • Health hazards

Acute toxicity, skin corrosion/irritation, Serious eye damage/ eye irritation, Respiratory or skin sensitization, Germ cell mutagenicity, Carcinogenicity, Reproductive toxicity, Specific target organ – Single exposure, Specific target organ toxicity – Repeated exposure, and Aspiration hazard.

  • Environmental Hazards

Hazardous to the aquatic environment (acute and chronic), Hazardous to the ozone layer

GHS standardized elements are featured on every hazard label which includes.

  • Hazard Pictogram(s) – Specific information about a hazard expressed through standardized visual symbols
  • Product Identifier – Chemical identity is the name of the substance or a hazardous ingredient
  • Signal Word – There are currently two standard signal words: Danger and Warning
  • Supplier Identification – This would include the name, address, and telephone number of a chemical manufacturer or supplier
  • Hazard Statement – Standardized phrase which describes the hazard per the GHS hazard classification.
  • Precautionary Statement – Standardized expression which recommends measures for preventing and minimizing adverse effects.

What are the benefits?

One of the primary benefits of adopting the GHS classification is to increase the quality and consistency of information provided to all workers and users with chemicals. By implementing a standardized method when classifying chemicals and formatting safety data sheets and labels, GHS will ideally improve employee health and safety and understanding globally. This standardized classification system will reduce the need for evaluating or testing chemicals against a multitude of classification systems.

Improved employee/worker understanding will result in the applicable handling and use of harmful chemicals and will reduce workplace incidents, injuries, fatalities, and potential illnesses with exposures to hazardous chemicals. For any government organization, the application of the GHS will primarily reduce the costs of any enforcement and improve any international reputation on chemical issues.

For businesses, it will introduce a more safer working environment which will translate into a healthier corporate image as employees will be treated properly while working. Building a better working environment will only just improve relations with management and employees, not to mention reduce significant costs of accidents and any compliance with hazard communication regulations will save your business money in the long term.

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