What is HazCom GHS?

HazCom GHS stands for the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. It was originally proposed in 1992 at the "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and now after several years of development it is an international agreement brokered through the United Nations.

The HazCom GHS is a system to standardize the way hazardous materials are classified. The idea is that the same criteria will be used all over the world to determine if a material is flammable, toxic or corrosive and so on. We are then assured that if a material is considered toxic in China it will also be so in the USA, Europe, Brazil and elsewhere around the Globe.

The HazCom GHS also harmonizes the way hazards are communicated by means of Warning Labels and Safety Data Sheets.

Before the HazCom GHS different countries each had their own standards for determining what was hazardous and each had its own unique system for communicating these hazards. This created confusion and expense for companies manufacturing, using and selling their products across national borders, further requiring that each chemical be re-classified for that specific market. The HazCom GHS is intended to replace these multiple systems with a single unified approach.

Who Will Be Affected by GHS?

If you are a manufacturer, supplier or a user of chemicals big changes are ahead! Soon, if not already, you will be required to comply with new laws, regulations or directives for the classification and labeling of hazardous materials. The timelines for compliance are short.

In most jurisdictions the unified GHS approach will be applied to:

Workplace chemicals
Consumer chemicals (Not in USA at this time)
Pesticides (Not in USA at this time)
Products regulated under the transportation of dangerous goods (Changes already completed in USA)

So not only will systems be harmonized from country to country, they will be harmonized from sector to sector (consumer, transport and workplace) within each country. In the United States alone it is estimated that 5 million workplaces will be affected, with training required for more than 40 million workers. A similar, if not larger impact, can be expected in Europe.

What exactly must be done to comply with HazCom GHS?

While there may be slight differences in implementation from country to country, we can expect the basic requirements to be the same worldwide these will be:

1. Classification of Chemicals to HazCom GHS Criteria

The classification of all chemicals according to the new HazCom GHS criteria. Manufacturers and suppliers must not assume that because a material was not considered hazardous under the existing system it will escape classification in the HazCom GHS. By and large the HazCom GHS criteria are broader than existing standards and will therefore 'capture' more materials.

2. Prepare Labels with HazCom GHS Elements

The preparation of new labels. The HazCom GHS has standardized the format of labels so that all will have the same headings. Standard phrases must be used to describe the various hazards.

Degreaselin-Label (1)

3. Prepare HazCom GHS Format Safety Data Sheets (SDS)

The preparation of new Safety Data Sheets. HazCom GHS uses the term Safety Data sheets (SDS) instead of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). HazCom GHS compliant Safety Data Sheets have 16 parts arranged in a Standard format with specific information required under each heading and sub-heading. The requirements for SDSs in Europe are VERY PRESCRIPTIVE and companies wishing to do business there are strongly advised to check out European requirements and perhaps adopt those for their SDSs world-wide. The 16 main headings on an SDS are as follows:

Identification of the substance
Hazard identification
First-aid measures
Fire fighting measures
Accidental release measures
Handling and storage
Exposure controls/personal protection
Physical and chemical properties
Stability and reactivity
Toxicological information
Ecological information
Disposal considerations
Transportation information
Regulatory information
Other information dates/revision

Note that European SDSs require the Preparation Date of the SDS and any amendments made to be at the top of the first page.

4. Train Employees on New Label Elements and SDS Format

Training of Employees. Almost certainly the largest task in HazCom GHS implementation will be the safety training of employees. The HazCom GHS is more complex than previous hazard communication systems. There are 3 main hazard groups Physical, Health and Environmental. These groups are subdivided into various hazard "classes" (Physical =16 classes, Health =10 classes and Environmental =2 classes). In addition the various "classes" are subdivided yet again into hazard "categories" depending on whether they are serious or less serious hazards. This complexity requires that any training be carefully planned. In particular it must be able to turn complex terms and concepts into everyday understandable language. Programs offering training in several different languages will be in demand.

When will HazCom GHS Start?

It has already begun. New Zealand has essentially completed the main stages of implementation. Malaysia and Indonesia are well on their way. All of Europe is well advanced in implementing the HazCom GHS, some parts of which are incorporated into the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) initiative. In the USA OSHA's rule has already been passed by the OMB. The final rule publication has now been published and has been incorporated into the Hazard Communication Standard. Canada will likely follow very quickly. Time lines for compliance, particularly the education component, will likely be tight.


*This date coincides with the European Union implementation date for classification of mixtures

Training & Resource Services

Training options that we offering including video, self-taught, in-house trainers, on-site training and web based training models.

The complete documentation for these standards can be found in the United Nations "Purple Book" Fourth Revised Edition. This is a technically written document available directly from the UN book store.

Please feel free to contact us with any questions you may have or discuss how to start to implement a HazCom GHS compliant hazard communication program in your facility. You can reach us by email at: training@ghssafety.com.