When it comes to labels, few are better known than the GHS labels (even if people don’t always realize that is what they are called). GHS, or the Globally Harmonized System, is an international set of standards that are agreed upon to help ensure people from across many industries and around the world are all using universally recognized standards.
This includes standards when it comes to the classification and labeling systems used for dangerous chemicals. The GHS labeling standards are used by regulatory agencies as well, including OSHA. While GHS is not itself a legal regulatory agency, most companies are required to follow their standards in this area because of the fact that their standards are adopted by governmental bodies.
Common GHS Terms
Whether reading GHS labels or making them, it is important to be aware of some terms that are commonly used.
- SDS – Safety data sheets are required to go along with most GHS labels. These data sheets can provide more detailed information about chemicals and other potentially hazardous materials.
- Class – Different types of hazards are broken up into different classes. Gasses that are under pressure would be one class. Acids could be another, just to give some examples.
- Hazard Groups – Hazardous materials are broken down into three groups, environmental, physical and health.
- Hazard Statement – Hazard statements are standardized to describe specific hazards. These statements give brief but essential pieces of information about the items being labeled.
- Precautionary Statement – This is a statement that provides instructions on how to avoid dangers when working with these materials.
- Signal Words – Signal words are DANGER and WARNING. Danger is to indicate a higher level of risk, while warning is for when there is a potential for harm but it is not quite as serious.
- Pictogram – Pictograms are the visual representation of specific risks. Typically they will just be a black image that is easily recognizable so people will know what risks there are on a labeled item.
Health Hazard Classes
If a GHS label has information stating that it is a health hazard, it is important to know what that means. The specific classes within the group health hazards include acute toxicity, skin corrosion, serious eye damage, respiratory or skin sensitization, germ cell mutagenicity, carcinogenicity, reproductive toxicity, specific target organ toxicity (single and repeated exposure), and aspiration hazard.
Physical Hazard Groups
When a GHS label lists that something is part of the physical hazard group, it means that it can present a serious physical danger. The classes within this group include explosives, flammable gasses, aerosols, oxidizing gasses, gasses under pressure, flammable liquids, flammable solids, self-reactive substances, pyrophoric liquids, pyrophoric solids, self-heating substances, substances that emit flammable gasses, oxidizing liquids, oxidizing solids, organic peroxides, and corrosive to metals.
Environmental Hazard Classes
Finally, the environmental hazard group includes just two classes within it. Things that are hazardous to the aquatic environment, and those that are hazardous to the ozone layer. Anything that can cause dangers in these ways need to be listed with the proper environmental hazard class.
OSHA Implementing GHS Standards
OSHA used to use the Hazard Communication Standards (HCS) in their regulatory decisions, but have moved to adopting the GHS standards. This was done largely to help ensure that American companies are in line with what people throughout most of the world are using. With advancements in shipping and supply chains, more and more companies today are operating on an international, if not global, scale. Having a set of standards that applies everywhere is the best way to ensure safety.
Having a governmental regulatory agency like OSHA require that companies follow the GHS label information helps ensure universal use. Perhaps more importantly, however, is that it will help ensure that employees and others will be able to recognize the labels no matter where they are. If a company brings in workers from another country, for example, they will at least have a basic understanding of the safety labeling that is being used.
Training is Still Necessary
Despite the fact that the GHS labeling information is used in most industrialized countries around the world, companies should never assume that their employees are well-versed. Providing them with regular training is very important.
The GHS labeling system relies on the assumption that employees are told what the different pictograms, hazard statements, and other information means. If someone doesn’t recognize these items, the labels are essentially useless.
Fortunately, the GHS labeling standard was designed specifically to make it as easy as possible for employees to learn about. The pictograms, for example, are very simple and there aren’t so many of them that it becomes confusing. A pictogram of a flame means that the item is flammable, for example. Using common sense will help a lot, and the training will help ensure that GHS labeling is as effective as possible.
Easy to Order or Create
One last reason why the GHS labeling standards have been so well adopted is because they are so easy to get. You can order pre-printed GHS labeling for most common chemicals, acids, and other materials. In addition, all industrial label printers and the software they use are able to create these types of labels as needed.
Many companies today have their own printers on site so they can quickly print off a label when they need it. Having different labels saved on their computers allows them to immediately select and print a GHS label with all the required information in just seconds. Even if a new chemical comes in, the pictograms and other requirements are readily available to make a standard label.
Whether your facility has already fully adopted the GHS labeling standard or you’re opening a new facility that needs to ensure it is in compliance, you will find that it is an easy goal to accomplish. When done properly, it will help your facility to operate more safely and keep employees, the facility itself, and the surrounding communities protected from harm.