In 2012, the OSHA updated its labeling requirements for hazardous substances to bring them into line with international standards agreed upon by the United Nations. The idea was to harmonize all warning labels to improve safety, reduce confusion, and make it easier for dangerous goods to pass from one jurisdiction to another.
The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, or GHS, system was born in the USA. The OSHA – the agency responsible for occupational safety in the United States – updated its GHS labeling policies as part of a new communication standard called HazCom 2012.
HazCom came with a string of regulations for companies. Companies have to develop and implement a written program to be able to handle hazardous materials safely in the workplace. They must also follow the new GHS labeling requirements in a way that is consistent with HazCom 2012. Any dangerous chemical container must be labeled with a set of elements (such as the hazard statement) to warn anybody interacting with the package that it contains a potentially dangerous substance.
What Information Must GHS Labels Include?
The new regulations are clear about the information that container labels must include. It should be noted, however, that not all containers holding dangerous substances require GHS warning labels. Manufacturers of hazardous materials are required by law to label all the containers they ship to businesses or private consumers. However, if an employer transfers dangerous chemicals from a labeled container to a portable or secondary container that is only intended for immediate use by the employee who performs the transfer, no labels are required for the portable container.
It’s important to note that secondary or portable containers must be labeled with all the required information (except for manufacturer’s data) if any of the following conditions occur:
- The material is not used within the work shift of the individual who makes the transfer.
- The worker who made the transfer leaves the work area.
- The container is moved to another work area and is no longer in possession of the worker who filled the container.
The following are the six elements that GHS labels MUST include:
The GHS system ranks the degree of hazard posed by a particular substance, according to the “signal word.” The most dangerous chemicals are denoted by the word “Danger.” Less hazardous chemicals should use the word “warning” depending on a set of pre-defined risk attributes.
The GHS uses pictograms to communicate the risk posed by a particular substance or chemical, such as the risk that it may cause skin burns. The pictogram also shows the effect that the material could have on the environment if not disposed of correctly.
The third element is the manufacturer’s information. GHS labels should contain the name of the manufacturer and their contact information, including the address and phone number. Manufacturer information is not required for secondary or portable containers.
The purpose of the precautionary statement is to inform the chemical users how to handle, store safely, dispose of, and respond to spills. The safe handling section (prevention) tells the handler about what personal protective equipment should be used to prevent chemical exposures. Dangerous chemicals can sometimes spill out of their containers. Operatives, therefore, need information on what to do in such an event. GHS labels should include short, concise instructions for what to do if there is a spill. The label should also show workers how to store hazardous chemicals, including information about storage temperatures.
The hazard statement describes the nature of the hazard posed by the substance. Health hazard statements could include things like “carcinogenic” meaning that the chemical causes cancer, “mutagenicity” meaning that the content can damage DNA, “reproductive toxicology,” where the substance can impair fertility. Hazard statements can also include warnings that the material is “flammable” or “self-reactive” and different things like “skin sensitive,” “ narcotics effects,” and “hazardous to the ozone layer.” As with precautionary statements, you can find a list of required hazard statements in CFR 1910.1200 Appendix C.
Finally, GHS labels must include product identification information, telling users what the product is. Manufacturers include this information next to their contact information.
What Do GHS Pictograms Mean?
In total, there are nine different types of GHS pictograms, warning users of a variety of potential hazards when handling dangerous substances.
- Health Hazard Pictogram: The health hazard pictogram comprises the head and torso of a person with a star shape at the base of their neck. This pictogram illustrates that the substance may cause cancer, genetic defects, and cause damage to internal organs.
- Flame: The flame pictogram, which depicts an open flame, is used on flammable substances, pyrophoric, organic peroxides, self-reactive, self-heating and materials that can emit flammable gas.
- Exclamation Mark: The exclamation mark pictogram is for substances that irritate the skin or eyes or could cause respiratory tract irritation, narcotic effects, and dermal sensitizer. The exclamation mark denotes materials that can have acute toxicity, differentiating it from the health hazard pictogram, which indicates things that can have a long-term or chronic adverse effect.
- Gas Cylinder: Manufacturers must use the gas cylinder pictogram on gaseous substances under pressure.
- Flame Over Circle: The flame over circle pictogram is similar to the regular flammable pictogram, except for a circle at its center. The flame over circle pictogram denotes that the substance can cause or contribute to the combustion or fires by increasing the concentration of oxygen in the air. These chemicals can react with organic materials (paper, wood, fabric) or combustible liquids to cause or intensify fires.
- Corrosion: The corrosion pictogram denotes the corrosive effect of a substance. Corrosive materials can damage organic tissue such as skin, respiratory tract, lungs, and stomach, as well as metal, concrete, and other materials.
- Skull And Crossbones: The skull and crossbones pictogram means that a single exposure to the chemical could be fatal or cause severe health adverse effects.
- Exploding Bomb: The exploding bomb pictogram is for explosive substance, reactive substance, or substances containing organic peroxides which may explode when heated, are thermally unstable chemicals and may be sensitive to impact or friction.
- Environment Pictogram: The environment pictogram depicts a dead tree and a fish that has flopped out of water. The symbol tells operatives that the substance has aquatic toxicity and could damage ecosystems.
The purpose of the GHS labeling system is to ensure that both people and the environment remain safe from hazardous and dangerous chemicals.