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What is GHS?

GHS is an acronym for Globally Harmonized System, an internationally agreed upon system created by the United Nations that began in 1992. The goal of GHS is to identify the hazards of chemical substances and mixtures and to convey this information on products. It is used to classify these substances based on its hazardous criteria. This system is used as a tool to protect employees and anyone handling or exposed to hazardous materials in the workplace. It uses pictograms, hazard statements, and the signal words “Danger” and “Warning” to communicate information on products labels and safety data sheets (SDS).

Why was GHS developed?

Chemicals can both directly and indirectly affect our lives, so it is important to know when to take precautions. The primary goal of GHS is to promote better protection of human health and the environment by providing chemical handlers and users with uniform information on potential hazards. So, why was it developed?

• To provide a common and consistent approach to classifying chemicals
• Improve the quality of potentially hazardous information making it safer for employees to do their job
• Promote the health and safety of workers through more effective communications on chemical hazards
• Help reduce trade barriers and result in productivity for American businesses that regularly handle, store, and use hazardous chemicals
• Create a more standardized, common approach that will be more effective because there will be less confusion between different agencies with their own systems

GHS will also improve information received from other countries. Since the U.S. is both a major importer and exporter of chemicals, Americans often see labels and safety data sheets from other countries.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Department of Transportation (DOT), and Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) all have regulations that will be affected by the adoption of the GHS. Together, these agencies have formed an interagency coordination to promote U.S. government participation in GHS activities and negations. Each of these four agencies had their own system of labeling, which caused confusion. For example, the signal word “caution” has different meanings on pesticide labels and non-pesticide labels. The GHS system will eliminate this confusion and create one universal label.

How can companies prepare for GHS?

Companies can better prepare their employees and the workplace itself by implementing a plan. The transition plan should include:

• A Timetable – allow for a 6-12 month buffer before each deadline to account for unexpected roadblocks
• Training – train current and future employees on new pictogram definitions, signal words, hazard classification categories, Hazard & Precautionary statements, effective communication, and the new SDS format that contains information on safety precautions, including protective clothing, respiratory protection, eye protection, and other necessary personal protective equipment

• Perform A Chemical Inventory – a valuable tool that provides accurate inventory information

• Relabeling Secondary Containers – labeling requirements have changed. Pictograms must be outlined in red and chemical manufacturers and importers must provide a label that includes a signal word, pictogram, hazard statement, and precautionary statement for each hazard class and category.

Following these steps will ensure an easy transition into the new system.

What are the benefits of GHS to companies and workers?

The direct benefits of GHS include:

• A safer work environment
• Consistent and simplified communications on chemical hazards, safe handling, and use
• Greater use for training in programs for health and safety
• Reduced costs due to fewer accidents and illnesses
• Improved image of the company
• Greater awareness of hazards, for safer use of chemicals
• Enhance the protection of human health and the environment
• Promote sound management of chemicals worldwide

By December 1, 2013 OSHA will require that all employees be trained on the updated hazard communication standard. And by June 1, 2015 organizations must be compliant with all modified provisions. OSHA estimates that this system could prevent 43 fatalities and 585 injuries and illnesses each year. Money saved could total $266 million per year.