Top 10 Questions & Answers about GHS

The new GHS classification and communication pieces are the foundation of larger programs that ensure the safe use of chemicals. We need a world with a sensible approach to chemical management in products, materials, storage, and waste. GHS is the bedrock for this. The first two steps in any program to ensure the safe use of chemicals are 1)to identify intrinsic hazard(s) such as classification, and then 2)to communicate that information. GHS aims to address both steps in a globally standardized way. In common language, GHS just means a universal, structured classification and labeling system for chemicals.

GHS: Bridging chemical compliance and a greener supply chain

In this article, we've compiled the top 10 most commonly asked questions about GHS for hazardous chemicals.

1. What is GHS?

GHS is the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. Technically, it's called "The GHS," but people often shorthand to just "GHS." In short, the idea is a uniform safety data sheet that simplifies classifying and identifying chemical hazards across borders, from one country to another.

2. What are the benefits of the GHS?

The GHS provides a consistent global framework for classifying and identifying chemical hazards. Different countries will be able to fine-tune the regulation to their specific initiatives by increasing requirements on toxicological thresholds or exposure. A recent article in Industry Week magazine on GHS said it this way: "The goal of the GHS is to provide a consistent global framework for classifying and identifying chemical hazards." The production and use of chemicals is fundamental to all economies. The global chemical business is more than a $1.7 trillion per year enterprise. In the U.S., chemicals are more than a $450 billion business and exports are greater than $80 billion per year.

Chemicals directly or indirectly affect our daily lives. The widespread use of chemicals has resulted in the development of sector-specific regulations (transport, production, workplace, agriculture, trade, and consumer products). Having readily available information on the hazardous properties of chemicals, and recommended control measures, allows safe management of production, transport, use and disposal of chemicals.

Thus, human health and the environment are protected. The GHS will streamline and make a universal standard. Simple. (Right?...)

3. Are all chemicals covered by the GHS?

The GHS covers all hazardous chemicals. There are no complete exemptions from the scope of the GHS for a particular type of chemical or product. The term "chemical" is used broadly to include substances, products, mixtures, preparations, or any other terms that may be used by existing systems. The goal of the GHS is to identify the intrinsic hazards of chemical substances and mixtures and to convey hazard information about these hazards.

4. How will the GHS impact countries without existing regulations?

Developing and maintaining a classification and labeling system is not a simple task. The GHS can be used as a tool for developing national regulations. It is expected that countries that do not have systems will adopt GHS as their basic scheme. The GHS provides the building blocks from which countries can construct chemical safety programs.

5. What are the GHS label elements?

Some GHS label elements have been standardized (identical with no variation) and are directly related to the endpoints and hazard level. Other label elements are harmonized with common definitions and/or principles.

The standardized label elements included in the GHS are:

Symbols (hazard pictograms): Convey health, physical and environmental hazard information, assigned to a GHS hazard class and category.

Signal Words: "Danger" or "Warning" are used to emphasize hazards and indicate the relative level of severity of the hazard, assigned to a GHS hazard class and category.

Hazard Statements: Standard phrases assigned to a hazard class and category that describe the nature of the hazard.

6. What is the GHS Safety Data Sheet (SDS)?

The (Material) Safety Data Sheet (SDS) provides comprehensive information for use in workplace chemical management in a 16 section format. Employers and workers use the SDS as sources of information about hazards and to obtain advice on safety precautions. The SDS is product related and, usually, is not able to provide information that is specific for any given workplace where the product may be used. However, the SDS information enables the employer to develop an active program of worker protection measures, including training, which is specific to the individual workplace and to consider any measures that may be necessary to protect the environment. Information in a SDS also provides a source of information for other target audiences such as those involved with the transport of dangerous goods, emergency responders, poison centers, those involved with the professional use of pesticides and consumers

7. What is the difference between the GHS SDS and existing MSDSs/SDSs?

SDSs are in use globally. So it is useful to have an understanding of the similarities and differences in the existing MSDS/SDS content and format and the GHS SDS content and format. A table comparing MSDS/SDS content/format is provided in Appendix A of one of the OSHA guidance documents.

8. What are some ways I can prepare for GHS?

There are several things you can to do prepare for a GHS implementation. These include: 1)weeding out redundant and outdated documents, 2)setting up process to ensure outreach to suppliers occurs on an ongoing basis, and 3)assembling raw materials in a spreadsheet or database application.

9. What will the cost be?

OSHA estimates that in safety data sheet review, standardized data sheets would save 2.5 to 4 hours per review. OSHA further estimates the average salary of the person reviewing the SDS to be $47/hour. If your department reviews an average of three SDSs per day, that's a $141 savings each day, and $36,660 each year. You would have to do the math for your organization, but in SDS review alone GHS conversion provides immediate ROI. (source: IndustryWeek, article sourced above.)

Also, special to this blog, OSHA provided a table of net GHS costs to benefits. The net monetized benefits are estimated to be $754 million annually -- which according to these numbers are an 8-to-1 ROI.

10. Does the GHS address training?

The GHS states, in Chapter 1.4, Section1.4.9, the importance of training. The goal of training is that all target audiences know how to recognize and interpret label and/or SDS information, and to take appropriate action in response to chemical hazards. Training requirements should be appropriate for and commensurate with the nature of the work or exposure.

Key target audiences include workers, emergency responders and also those responsible for developing labels and SDSs. To varying degrees, the training needs of additional target audiences have to be addressed. These should include training for persons involved in transport and strategies required for educating consumers in interpreting label information on products that they use.

-- Adam Baer

Guest blogger Adam Baer authors (M)SDSs and manages (M)SDS data and related compliance information on a daily basis. He graduated from the University of Maine with a B.A. in Journalism. Contact him at
Kathleen Hurley