An Introduction to GHS for Your Facility

GHS is an important system that businesses use when classifying and labeling hazardous chemicals. IT stands for, “Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals.” Companies use this system to help improve workplace safety and ensure anyone who works with or around potentially dangerous chemicals can be as safe as possible. There are many aspects of the GHS system, each designed to ensure everyone working in these areas will have the information they need to make smart and safe decisions.

History of GHS

The GHS system was designed and managed by the United Nations with the hope of creating a set of standards that would be used by companies throughout the world. Due to the fact that globalization is advancing rapidly, the importance of making sure everyone uses the same type of labels and other information was critical. Today, most countries in the industrialized world follow the standards established under GHS. This ensures that a chemical that is created in one country and shipped to another will have the same type of labeling so that there is no confusion.

GHS Labeling

One of the biggest components of the GHS system is the labeling standards that are established. These labels use simple pictograms in order to let people know what type of hazard a particular chemical has associated with it. Using these pictograms is essential because of the global nature of this program. Writing a warning out may be helpful, but it cannot be written in every language that a particular chemical may be used in. The pictograms offer universal recognition to anyone who has been trained in how this system works.

The GHS labeling system may include words along with the pictograms in some situations. The pictogram itself, however, is always required. This system has become so popular, many of the pictograms are even recognizable by people who do not have any training with GHS. This is because the pictograms are often used on shipping trucks, printed on the containers of household chemicals, and much more.

There are many different pictograms that go on the GHS labels. Those who work with these chemicals need to be trained to understand what each one means. At the very least, they should be familiar with the images related to the chemicals that are used within their facility. Some companies only use a small number of hazardous chemicals, in which case the employees would not need to be familiar with every pictogram that does not apply to the chemicals used in their facility.

Safety Data Sheets (SDS)

While the pictogram on the labels will provide an immediate recognition of what type of hazard a chemical has associated with it, that may not be enough in all situations. There are many times when someone may need detailed information about a given chemical so that it can be used properly. This could be critical, for example, if there is a chemical spill and the emergency responders need to know what steps to take to treat those who are exposed to it. To get this information, the GHS program created safety data sheets.

Safety data sheets are standardized documents that provide all essential information about a chemical covered by the GHS program. Companies that follow the GHS system must have a safety data sheet for each hazardous chemical that is created, used, or stored in their facility. SDS’s should all be kept in one central location within the facility so that everyone knows where they are when they need to be referenced. The sheets can be easily downloaded and printed online since they are standardized for each chemical.

Who is Required to Follow GHS?

While the United Nations creates and manages the GHS program, they do not have any enforcement abilities to make it a requirement that individual companies follow the standards. That being said, most countries, including the United States, have adopted the GHS standards as part of their overall safety requirements. By incorporating these standards into country specific regulations, they are made mandatory in most areas.

Even if a particular country does not require that companies operating within it follow the GHS standards, they typically will if they are doing business on an international level. This is because the companies they do business with will demand that this program is followed to help ensure their business is protected. This is, at least in part, how the GHS program has become the standard that is used in most countries throughout the world.

Additional Resources