Hazard classification under the Globally Harmonized System (GHS)

The new Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulation 29 CFR 1910.1200 requires that by 2015 industries in the United States implement the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). A key component of the GHS is hazard classification. The GHS provides categories for the various risks chemicals may pose, along with guidelines for clearly communicating these dangers to employees with proper labeling and safety data sheets (SDSs).

OSHA has incorporated the GHS categories for the classification of physical hazards into 1910.1200, and they include:

•    Explosives
•    Flammable Gases, Aerosols, Liquids, and Solids
•    Oxidizing Gases, Liquids, and Solids
•    Self-Reactive Substances
•    Pyrophoric Liquids and Solids
•    Self-Heating Substances
•    Organic Peroxides
•    Corrosive to Metals
•    Gases Under Pressure
•    Substances which, in contact with water, emit flammable gases

The GHS also outlines specific rules for classifying health hazards associated with chemicals that could cause illness. The GHS health hazard categories are as follows:

•    Acute Toxicity
•    Skin Corrosion or Irritation
•    Serious Eye Damage or Eye Irritation
•    Respiratory or Skin Sensitization
•    Germ Cell Mutagenicity
•    Carcinogenicity
•    Reproductive Toxicology
•    Target Organ Systemic Toxicity - Single or Repeated Exposures
•    Aspiration Toxicity

A third set of hazard classifications under the GHS defines environmental hazards. Chemicals that present environmental risks are generally considered hazardous to aquatic environments. Hazard categories include acute and chronic aquatic toxicity, including bioaccumulation potential and rapid degradability.

Specific criteria apply to each physical, health, and environmental hazard classification. Employers can consult the OSHA GHS Document, also known as “The Purple Book,” for more detailed information on the standard associated with these categories. The GHS classifications were designed to be clear and transparent, drawing clear distinctions between classes and categories to allow for “self classification.”

OSHA estimates that the change to GHS will affect more than 5 million American workplaces with 40 million workers. According to OSHA, adopting the GHS will save companies about $754 million per year due to reduced health and safety issues, cost reductions, and productivity improvements.

The benefit of the GHS will be making chemical communication more consistent and easier for workers to understand. OSHA expects these improvements will prevent approximately 43 deaths and 585 injuries and illnesses in workplaces each year.  

Prepare workers for the GHS transition by educating them about the new 29 CFR 1910.1200 standard. Employers can make training sessions even more effective by informing teams about the risks associated with each hazard category and how to the properly use protective equipment like safety glasses, respiratory protection, work gloves, and protective clothing when using hazardous chemicals.

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