Understanding GHS (Part 1)

Whether you’re aware of it or not, the way we categorize and label our chemicals is changing. By June 1, 2015 all labels and material safety data sheets (SDS) will have been updated to reflect this change. This change is known as the GHS and we are going to spend the next few days breaking it down for you and hopefully making it simple enough to understand and comply with.

What is the GHS?
GHS stands for Globally Harmonized System (GHS) and it seeks to classify and label of chemical. As its name implies, it is first of all an international effort. It is intended to standardize the labelling and data sheets according to health, physical and environmental hazards. After all, the physical properties of chemicals and how they interact with the body, how they effect our health and how they effect the environment doesn’t change just because that particular chemical crosses a border. If it’s dangerous in France, it’s dangerous in Norway too. Because chemicals are being shipped all over the world a standardized system is going to greatly reduce the amount of work involved in the present system which requires relabelling each and every chemical the comes in the country so that it matches the American standard which isn’t necessarily the same as the country from which it is imported.
The GHS is a combination of OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard, the chemical labeling and classification systems of other US agencies as well as the systems utilized in many countries and international organizations around the world. Much like the European road signs, it is going to use symbols and pictograms as much as possible to bridge the language barrier. We will look at these shortly.

Why did OSHA adopt the GHS?
While the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) was put into effect in 1983, it has never required chemical manufacturers to communicate the information about the hazards in any specific format. Every manufacturer was free to design the label with the information in whatever format they decide upon. The result has been a complex variety that often makes locating the specific information difficult and time consuming. Additionally, because standards, ways of measuring, units of measure, etc… vary from country to country, there is often a considerable amount of work involved in trying to “translate” and convert the information into something that makes sense according to the HCS. Symbols and hazard statements from one country may be totally unfamiliar in another, causing confusion and potentially increasing the danger when that chemical is used.
Although initially, the GHS is going to require a considerable amount of work seing as essentially every label and every MSDS sheet is going to have to be rewritten for each and every chemical in use any where in the world, it will ultimately save hundreds of thousands of man hours each year because of the number of new chemicals being manufactured and exported each year.

Tomorrow we will continue with this topic with Understanding GHS (Part 2)