By Kim Scaravelli

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) is an international agreement to standardize how chemicals are classified and labeled. Over 65 countries around the world, including the United States, have adopted or are in the process of adopting the GHS. OHSA has revised its Hazard Communication Standard to include new GHS labeling elements and a GHS-standardized Safety Data Sheet (SDS) (previously known as a Material Safety Data Sheet). To comply with the law, U.S. employers must provide workers with training about the new GHS labels and SDSs.

Workers must be able to recognize and interpret the 6 mandatory elements of a GHS product label, which include a product identifier, supplier identifier, pictograms, a signal word, hazard statements and precautionary statements.

The product identifier can be the chemical name, code number, or batch number. The same product identifier must be used on both the GHS label and the SDS. Supplier identification must include the name, address, and phone number of the manufacturer, distributor, or importer.

GHS pictograms are images that identify a hazard. There are 9 GHS pictograms. Each is a picture that indicates a certain hazard. All GHS pictograms have a red, diamond-shaped border, with a black image inside, on a white background. A GHS product label must have a pictogram for each hazard associated with the chemical. Goods that are in transport will still use transport pictograms. Where transport pictograms are required, the GHS pictogram for the same hazard will not appear.

To comply with the GHS, the product label must include a signal word which indicates the relative level of severity of the hazard. There are two options: danger and warning. ‘Danger’ is used if the hazard is severe. ‘Warning’ is used if the hazard is less severe. Only one signal word can appear on the label.

GHS labels must include both hazard statements and precautionary statements. A hazard statement describes a hazard and its severity (e.g. ‘fatal if swallowed’, ‘extremely flammable gas’). The product label must include a hazard statement for each hazard associated with the product. Hazard statements may be combined to make the label more readable. A precautionary statement describes a measure you should take to avoid exposure or to minimize the harmful effects of exposure (e.g. ‘wear respiratory protection’, ‘store in a dry place’, ‘dispose of contents/container in accordance with local regulations’, ‘DO NOT induce vomiting’).

A GHS product label may also include other supplementary information like first aid recommendations, and general usage information.

Over the next couple of years, as the transition to the GHS continues, workers must be trained to recognize and interpret both ‘old’ labels and ‘new’ (GHS compliant) labels and SDSs because both are likely to be found within the workplace. There are things employers must know about GHS training because employers are responsible for providing this training, for ensuring that all hazardous products in the workplace are properly labeled, and for making sure that the labels and SDSs match (e.g. a product that has a GHS-compliant label must also have a GHS-compliant SDS available).

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