Most would consider chemicals to be essential to modern living. Even when we can live our day-to-day lives without them, they are undoubtedly important in the field of industry. If you’re a business owner, manager or overseer you know that while chemicals can be an enormous boon to virtually any industry, even the most seemingly benign of them has its caveats. When handling chemicals and other substances that are potentially hazardous to our health, it’s essential that they are handled correctly.
Having the right health and safety infrastructure including an appropriate hazard communication standard is of paramount importance. It limits liability, promotes employee welfare and facilitates harmonious operation. To help avoid miscommunication and encourage a consistent language of safety GHS warning labels and pictograms have been developed. If you’re not familiar with GHS, whatever the nature of your business, you should be. Fortunately, this list will empower you with everything you need to know.
What Does GHS Stand For?
GHS stands for the Globally Harmonized System of the Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. In an era where hazardous substances are transported internationally on a daily basis, it’s essential that those who come into contact with them all over the world can follow the same system of warning labels. No ambiguity. No margin for error.
Where Are GHS Labels Used?
GHS is a universally understood set of guidelines for ensuring the safe production, transport, handling, use and disposal of chemicals and other hazardous materials. Thus, wherever hazardous materials are made, handled, transported or disposed of you’ll see GHS warning labels clearly in view.
The Purpose of GHS
No country or industry can afford to imperil its workforce with the improper use, disposal or transportation of harmful substances. As such, GHS is intended to offer a universal, logical and comprehensive approach to:
- Defining the health, physical and environmental hazards of chemical substances
- Creating a classification process that uses available data on chemicals for comparison with a universal and clearly defined hazard criteria
- Globally communicating hazard information on warning labels and safety data sheets
The Birth of GHS
You may well wonder how GHS came about. It was originally developed by the United Nations, as a way to get its constituent countries to agree on their chemical regulations and standards. In an era where international trade will only ever grow more commonplace, it makes little sense for each country to have its own system of classification and labeling that becomes meaningless the instant a chemical product leaves that country’s shores.
Simply put, GHS is intended to keep everyone on the same page. It hopes to encourage every country in the world to incorporate the easy to follow tenets of the GHS into their intrinsic chemical management systems.
In so doing, the manufacturing, international sale, transportation and handling of hazardous chemicals will become safer. GHS has the potential to save countless lives all over the planet.
GHS Is Taking over the World
GHS has already been adopted in no fewer than 65 countries out of the 195 countries of the world. That’s almost 50% of the world that’s adapted to (or is in the process of adapting to) GHS. That means that even if you don’t do business in a country where GHS pictograms are the norm… There’s a good chance you do business with a country where they are.
It’s Been the Standard in the United States for the Better Part of a Decade!
GHS has been officially adopted in the United States as of March 26, 2012. That’s just shy of 7 years. Almost a decade! OSHA’s adoption is actually a revision of the Hazard Communication Standard intended to align more closely with GHS. OSHA refers to this revision as HazCom 2012. Thus, if you do business in or with the US it’s more than likely that GHS is already an intrinsic part of your operations and the standards to which you are held for compliance.
You Don’t Legally Have to Be GHS Compliant… but Why Wouldn’t You?
While GHS is often tied into compliance, it is not (in and of itself) a legal requirement. It’s a common misconception to think of GHS as international law or a method of regulation. GHS is what it says on the label (pun intended), it’s a system. It is best viewed as a collection of recommendations and best practices. No country is or corporation is legally obliged to adopt GHS or even part of it.
However, that doesn’t mean that you won’t stand a much better chance of remaining compliant if you adopt it. After all, it’s a system of best practices… Moreover, why wouldn’t you want your business and your brand to be associated with the best practices?
GHS Is a Movable Feast
Because it is not a mandatory requirement in its entirety, countries are free to incorporate any elements of GHS they wish into their best practices making it something of a movable feast. Each adopting country is solely responsible for its adoption and enforcement within its own jurisdiction.
GHS Is Far from Disruptive
GHS is designed to fit into existing infrastructures without disruption. Rarely an organization will need to change its processes and procedures to accommodate it completely. In most cases, the notable changes brought about by GHS are changes to warning labels, safety data sheets, and the classifications of chemicals.
Most Changes Are Pretty Small
It’s likely that you won’t even need to make enormous changes to the wording in operational manuals or employee handbooks. MSDS online refers to a specific example;
“…the GHS refers to safety data sheets as SDSs, dropping the M from material safety data sheets (or MSDSs) as most American companies are used to. The GHS also standardizes the content and formatting of SDSs into 16 sections with a strict ordering. Labels also look quite different, with 6 standardized elements that include specific language depending upon chemical classification.”
How We Can Help
We are well versed in the development and printing of personalized GHS labels and GHS pictograms. We have a wide selection that can be tailored entirely to your needs whatever the nature and scope of your organization. Click here for more information on our wide selection of labels.