The Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals is a new worldwide initiative for the standardized classification of hazardous chemicals and a communication system for conveying information regarding their proper use and handling.
Many systems for the classification and labeling of chemical products currently exist between and within countries. This is costly for companies working with different systems, difficult for governments to regulate and dangerous for workers handling the chemicals who may find a system unfamiliar or confusing. The goal of the GHS is to reduce costs, streamline regulatory procedures and increase safety through a universal set of rules for classifying hazards and use of the same format and content for labels and safety data sheets.
The GHS classifies hazardous chemicals as either being a health, physical or environmental risk. From these three groups, the GHS further specifies the types of hazards within each hazard group. The GHS' universalized classification of chemical hazards sets a foundation for the accurate and clear exchange of information pertaining to their use.
The GHS employs this new classification system to provide clear and consistent communication with regards to the handling of hazardous chemicals. The GHS will require standardized information to appear on the labels of hazardous chemicals, consisting of three parts — a hazard statement, a word signal and a pictogram. The hazard statement describes the type of hazard, while the signal word communicates its potential severity. The pictogram is a non-text symbol also used to convey the type of hazard. The inclusion of the pictogram is beneficial because of its simplicity, eye-catching nature and ability to transcend language barriers. By combining multiple means of communication on one label, the GHS ensures that hazard information is conveyed quickly and effectively.
More detailed chemical safety information under the GHS system is provided through Safety Data Sheets. Following a strict 16-section format providing specific safety information, Safety Data Sheets allow for detailed information to be conveyed about hazardous chemicals in an organized and thorough manner.
A standardized system of classifying and communicating about hazardous chemicals is essential in today's complex, global economy. The GHS streamlines communication domestically and internationally, in between governments, companies, chemical handlers and users, emergency responders and the public. The GHS vastly reduces the need for multiple tests and evaluations during the trade and transport of hazardous chemicals. This allows for increased trade, reduced costs and greater efficiency of government regulatory procedures.
In addition to facilitating greater economic success for the hazardous chemical industry, the GHS prioritizes the health and safety of those working with chemicals. The consistent GHS labeling procedures and Safety Data Sheet format reduces confusion and misunderstanding about the properties of chemicals and how to properly transport and handle them. The GHS also promotes better emergency response to chemical incidents, as emergency responders can better recognize what chemicals may be involved at the scene and respond quickly and appropriately.
The GHS system includes an environmental hazard with the goal of not only protecting the safety of individuals involved in the production, trade and use of hazardous chemicals, but also to protect the environment. With the import and export of hazardous chemicals, careful transportation and handling is key to not letting them negatively interact with the outside world.
The GHS will not produce positive change in the hazardous chemical field without training those operating in the field how to navigate the new system. With training, however, employees will easily be able to recognize and interpret the information provided in labels and Safety Data Sheets — ultimately assisting in improved safety and the growth of the industry.