The United States has been at the forefront spearheading the need for a standardized approach to classification of dangerous chemicals, their labeling and communication on the hazards. This has been achieved through Globally Harmonized System (GHS) reached after broad and structured negotiations carried out by experts drawn from a number of countries with experience in hazard communication. The adoption of this system is bound to have far reaching effects on the existing standards of workplace safety as there will be new ways of classifying hazards depending on the nature of dangers posed by each chemical. GHS pictograms providing effective communications on health and environmental hazards will play a major role in this.
According to the agreed terms on the adoption of the recommendations and harmonization of the standards, employers dealing with hazardous chemicals are to ensure that by the end of 2013 their employees are fully trained on the new labeling methods and the format of capturing safety data. In the mid of 2015, all those dealing with the manufacture, importation and distribution of hazardous chemicals will be prohibited from shipping or transporting their products if they will not be using GHS labels. A year after that in mid 2016, all workplaces in the relevant industries will be required to have overhauled their labeling and communication methods to conform to the new standards and also to have trained their employees on the new regulations on hazard communication.
Changes in labeling
With changes in the standards on safety hazards, labels will also undergo several adjustments. There will be nine GHS pictograms that will be used each with specifications on the colors to communicate appropriate information about the potential hazards. The signal words will be limited to two, these being danger and warning. The word danger is to be used to signify severe hazards whilst the word warning will be for less severe ones. The hazard statement used should be able to indicate the degree of hazard while the precautionary statement contains a recommendation on the measures to take to minimize the risks or any adverse effects.
There are nine GHS pictograms and each of them is supposed to communicate on specific kind of hazards. The health hazard pictogram covers risky exposures such as carcinogens and other toxins that will have adverse effects on the health of an individual. The flame pictogram is to be used where there are flammables, self-reactive or gasses that are highly flammable. The exclamation mark will be used near products that are irritating to the eyes, those harmful to the skin and those that have the potential of destroying the Ozone layer. There is also a gas cylinder pictogram that signifies transportation or storage of high pressure gases. A pictogram depicting an exploding bomb is to be used to represent chemicals that are highly explosive and also the presence of organic peroxides. A pictogram with a skull and two crossing bones will represent toxic chemicals that can fatally harm. A corrosion GHS pictogram will be an indicator of corrosive materials; a flame over circle will indicate the presence of oxidizers while the one with a tree over water will signify aquatic toxicity.