ASSE GHS Webinar Q&A

The following questions and answers are from ASSE's Webinar entitled "GHS & HCS Crash Course in Compliance: What You Need to Know Now" which was delivered byMSDSonline CEO and President, Glenn Trout.

NFPA/HMIS Labeling & GHS

1.       What will happen with NFPA and HMIS labels? A cornerstone of U.S. HazCom now?
2.       How does the hazardous category numbering system in GHS compare to NFPA and HMIS?
3.       With the implementation of GHS, does this mean that the NFPA 704 standard (with numerical values) is obsolete?
4.       Numeric indictors are reversed in GHS from what we use here (e.g. currently Cat. 4 is the worst)?

There is nothing currently stated in OSHA’s proposal that would disallow the use of NFPA or HMIS labels, etc. That said, however, both the NFPA and HMIS labeling systems will likely need to make adjustments to account for GHS.  Furthermore, NFPA and HMIS labels will not be considered a compliant alternative for standardized GHS label elements like pictograms and signal words.

When it comes to NFPA/HMIS vs. GHS, it’s important to note that there is one key difference in the way each ranks hazard severity.  For GHS labels, the greater the severity, the lower the hazard number; whereas with NFPA/HMIS labels, the greater the severity, the higher the hazard number. OSHA received considerable push-back on this item from various stakeholders, and its response has basically been, “get with the program.”

OSHA has downplayed any confusion it expects to arise from these differences, pointing out that in GHS, the categorization numbers are not used on the label and are only present on the safety data sheet where it is presented in the context of additional clarifying information.  Furthermore, as the regulatory body with jurisdiction over Hazard Communication, OSHA gets to make the laws. It will be incumbent upon the organizations behind the NFPA and HMIS to make any necessary adjustments.

Regarding the future of NFPA Standard 704, we cannot say. We cannot speak for the NFPA. They have signaled that and they are waiting until a final rule is published before making any changes to their system.

The bottom line is OSHA standards are the law. NFPA and HMIS are voluntary compliance systems (which have been very valuable to many stakeholders in their efforts to stay safe and compliant). We will have to wait and see how the overseers of the NFPA and HMIS systems react to the final rule once it is published. What we can tell you is that the managers of both systems are well aware of GHS and its implications, and have indicated they will do everything they can to ensure their systems continue to serve their users.

Read more about the NFPA/HMIS issue on our blog.

Labeling/Warning Signs

1.       Can you give example of what the new label system looks like; content picture, numbers, colors, etc.?

Here is an example of a compliant label under the GHS ruling. There are six required elements:

  1. Product Identifier
  2. Manufacturer Information
  3. Signal Word
  4. Pictogram
  5. Hazard Statements
  6. Precautionary Statements

The only color that is required is the red border around the pictogram.

2.       Do we need to update our warning signs?

Most likely. OSHA’ s GHS proposal does propose updating language for workplace signs to make them consistent with GHS labels and classification.

3.       Will target organs still be required on the label?

Yes. Target organ information will be part of the label’s hazard statement. See page 1 of OSHA’s proposed Appendix C

4.       Will there be a quantity limit on the labeling requirement?  Do we need pictograms on the outside of samples in small packages?

This is a very specific question for which we would need more information in order to answer. So let’s back-up and say generally, under GHS, packages and containers of hazardous chemicals must be labeled. OSHA’s GHS proposal does make allowances for extra ordinary circumstances.  Here’s a quote directly from OSHA’s Guide to GHS:

“Are workplace containers covered in the GHS?

Products falling within the scope of the GHS will carry the GHS label at the point where they are supplied to the workplace, and that label should be maintained on the supplied container in the workplace. The GHS label or label elements can also be used for workplace containers (e.g., storage tanks). However, the Competent Authority can allow employers to use alternative means of giving workers the same information in a different written or displayed format when such a format is more appropriate to the workplace and communicates the information as effectively as the GHS label. For example, label information could be displayed in the work area, rather than on the individual containers. Some examples of workplace situations where chemicals may be transferred from supplier containers include: containers for laboratory testing, storage vessels, piping or process reaction systems or temporary containers where the chemical will be used by one worker within a short timeframe.”

5.       Can GHS compliant labels have additional information such as CAS numbers or synonyms?

The short answer is yes. GHS compliant manufacturer labels must have the six standardized elements discussed already; however, it does not restrict the use of additional information.

6.       For internal labeling GHS has an option for a black diamond border for the hazard pictograms in place of the red border.  Will the OSHA version of the GHS also have that option?

The United Nations GHS Revision 3 states that a red border is required for international shipments. The UN version does, however, permit adopting countries to allow black borders for shipments within a country. OSHA has signaled strongly that it is going to require a red border for both international and domestic shipments. Regarding “internal” (workplace/secondary) labels, we have not seen anything that says OSHA permits a black border to be used on “internal” labels.

7.       Will pictograms be required on the outside of all shipping packages?

Yes and No. The Department of Transportation handles shipping requirements and they have been using GHS styled transport pictograms for years. That will continue. Shipping containers are not necessarily required to have all of the pictograms a workplace container label must carry. However, there may be instances where the shipping container is also the workplace container, and in such cases regular pictograms may be required in addition to the transport pictograms.

8.       Were the pictograms you showed earlier the full list?


Secondary Container Labels and Workplace Labels

1.       Can you list what exactly should be on a workplace container?  I heard you say that it is performance based but can you state what should be a minimum?
2.       With regards to GHS labels & NFPA/HMIS labels, does new GHS dictate requirements for secondary container labels, such as both pictograms and wording?  Or is OSHA planning to allow a truncated version of the label information like is now allowed?
3.       Will GHS affect the labeling of aliquoted bottles? For example does a 500ml aliquot in a lab need pictograms or is it ok to write the chemical name?
4.       Can you review a little more on in-house labels?

OSHA is going to continue its performance based approach to secondary container labels, which means OSHA tells you what outcome you must achieve with your label, but leaves a lot of it up to you on how to achieve it.

According to the GHS proposal, you can either:  1) replicate the manufacturer’s GHS label; or 2) Use some combination of the GHS label elements that achieves a similar outcome. If you go for option 2, you must detail your system in your written plan, make sure employees are trained and fluent in the system, and ensure that if OSHA comes into your facility that your employees can explain and use the system effectively and safely.

Here’s the actual excerpt on secondary labeling from OSHA’s proposed GHS Alignment

“(f)(7) Workplace labeling. Except as provided in paragraphs (f)(8) and (f)(9) of this

section, the employer shall ensure that each container of hazardous chemicals in the workplace is labeled, tagged or marked with either:

(i) The information specified under (f)(1)(i) through (v) for labels on shipped containers; [MSDSonline Note: This option would  include product identifier, signal words, hazard statements, precautionary statements and pictograms] or,

(ii) Product identifier and words, pictures, symbols, or combination thereof, which provide at least general information regarding the hazards of the chemicals, and which, in conjunction with the other information immediately available to employees under the hazard communication program, will provide employees with the specific information regarding the physical and health hazards of the hazardous chemical.”

We recognize that everyone is looking for something more concrete; however, OSHS understands that it cannot account for every workplace scenario, which is why they provide some discretion to the employer to develop a system that works for their unique situation. We encourage you to engage your local OSHA office on the issue of secondary to ensure compliance. Because this issue has so much grey area, your local OSHA office may interpret the standard differently than another OSHA office would. Furthermore, getting as near to the manufacturer label as you can may provide the best coverage – it’s something a good electronic GHS labeling system should be able to assist with.


1.       Are the GHS carcinogenicity statements in line with IARC classifications?

This is something we expect will change. Here’s what OSHA says about how IARC classifications line up with its GHS proposal.

“…an argument is made…that no GHS Category 2 carcinogens should be labeled because it would result in more chemicals being classified as carcinogens than would be under the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) criteria.

“…the mere fact that incorporation of the GHS criteria might change the number of chemicals classified is not a reason to disregard the carcinogens in Category 2. The IARC criteria were one of the primary sources used for development of the GHS criteria, so it does not appear that there is a significant difference in approach. OSHA has had an enforcement interpretation that would allow manufacturers of certain carcinogens, those in IARC Category IIB, to include information about their carcinogenicity on the safety data sheet but not the label. Such an interpretation would not be consistent with GHS, and is not included in the proposed provisions. Therefore, there may be some chemicals that will now have carcinogen labels in addition to SDS information as a result of implementation of the GHS. This will ensure that employees get consistent information about these chemicals from all suppliers. Furthermore, because the current HCS uses the one study criterion, it appears that more chemicals are currently covered under the HCS than under any other criteria applied.”

2.       In GHS is there a maximum number for severity levels?

Four categories is the maximum number for most hazards; however, the UN’s version does have a category 5 for acute toxicity. OSHA’s proposal excludes this categorization.

3.       Will the ingredients list requirement be the same?  For example, 1% of total product by weight of all hazardous chemicals and .1% if a carcinogen.

Appendix A and Appendix B contain detailed information on classification of chemicals… however; here is what OSHA says about ingredients in the proposed rule:

“Evaluation of the health hazards of mixtures is based on data for the mixture as a whole when such data are available. When data  in the mixture as a whole are not available, the mixture is considered to present the same health hazards as any ingredients present at a concentration of 1% or greater, or, in the case of carcinogens, concentrations of 0.1% or greater. The HCS also recognizes that risk may remain at concentrations below these cut-offs, and where there is evidence that is the case, the mixtures are considered hazardous under the standard.”

In other words, the 1% or .1% ingredient rule is not an across-the-board determination. As the statement above puts it, “Evaluation of the health hazards of mixtures is based on data for the mixture as a whole.”

4.       Is the hazard classification going to be related the PEL, TLV or some other guidance?

On the subject of PEL’s, OSHA is proposing that Permissible Exposure Limits be mandatory on the SDS. It also says SDSs should include “any other exposure limit used or recommended by the chemical manufacturer, importer, or employer preparing the safety data sheet.” This was in response to considerable feedback they received regarding the inclusion of Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) and other exposure limits.

Safety Data Sheets (SDS)

1.       Will it be possible to make one SDS that will cover most countries?

The Globally Harmonized System or GHS as an idea is a good one. However, one of the downfalls of GHS implementation has been that each country only has to adopt those parts of GHS it wants to, and countries have adopted different version of GHS. To date there have been four revisions to GHS, so the early adopters might have aligned with the first and second revisions, while others are on revision 3 or working on adopting revision 4. The difference between those revisions might not be that great, but it’s often enough to require different SDSs for different regions. So when it comes to authoring, you must be very clear about what market you are creating the SDS for and ensure that it is compliant with the regulations of that country (or countries).

2.       Most of the MSDSs I have seen recently have 16 parts. Are these in the format the new SDS system will have?

Just because an MSDS has 16 sections does not mean it is a GHS formatted document. Similarly, just because a document has pictograms or is in the GHS format does not necessarily make it compliant with a given hazard communication standard. When we say GHS compliant, in relation to SDSs, we have to be more specific…and talk about exactly which system or systems the particular document is compliant with.

3.       Do you know if manufacturers have started changing their MSDSs or are they waiting for the final rule?

Some companies are waiting. Yet, many chemical manufacturers and distributors have already completed updating their safety data sheets, and many more are in the process of updating. We strongly recommend companies that will need to update SDSs based on GHS begin soon. From an end-user perspective, you may already be receiving GHS formatted safety data sheets. For that reason, we encourage everyone to be on the lookout for updated SDSs. Make sure you have your front line dock workers and procurement people on alert – since you will need to update your safety data sheet library when they do come in. Certainly, once the final rule is published we expect a good number of pre-authored SDSs will hit the market.

4.       Does the SDS require the red boarder pictogram?

No. OSHA says “Hazard symbols may be provided as graphical reproductions or the name of the symbol, (e.g. flame, skull and crossbones).

5.       Is it wishful thinking that a single SDS might be used for both North America and the EU?

It’s wishful thinking to be sure, but as long as classification is consistent, and as long as all required information is provided, it is possible. That said, Canada is in the process of aligning WHMIS with GHS and we’ll have to wait and see how their version lines up with Europe’s CLP and OSHA’s HCS.

6.       Does GHS have any requirements regarding SDS revisions? Do we have to ensure we have the latest revision of the SDS?

OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard places the onus on manufacturers, distributors and importers to supply safety data sheets to downstream users. Their responsibility is to provide updated SDSs, when changes are made, with their next shipment to customers. So, if you have products from a company that you no longer purchase from then you would obviously not receive any updates on SDSs for those products. OSHA does not require you to go out and get those updates. This will not change with GHS adoption. If you are in Canada or adhering to another system (e.g. ISO, OHSAS) you may have obligations to ensure safety data sheets are updated every three years.

7.       How long before manufacturers comply with new MSDSs after approval of the standard?

OSHA has indicated it will require full compliance within three years of the effective date and all training to be completed within two years of the final rule. Regarding the updating of MSDSs, as was mentioned, we are seeing a lot of movement on this already, and customers are reporting seeing updated MSDSs coming in.

Department of Transportation and GHS (DOT)

1.       Will the DOT standard still be in place and/or will DOT requirements change with GHS implementation?
2.       To be clear, is DOT currently in its transitional period?  Or still awaiting final adoption?
3.       With the implementation of GHS, will the DOT hazard classes change (ex. gases)?
4.       Is the department of Transportation on board with the GHS changes?

The Department of Transportation has been aligned with GHS for many years, since 2007/2008. Yet, the DOT does not have jurisdiction over everything that overlaps with its jurisdiction, like environmental hazards. So there will be adjustments to DOT’s regulations as GHS adoption continues in the U.S., but there is little about OSHA’s adoption that will affect DOT rules. DOT is not in a transitional period; however, adoption by agencies like the EPA could affect the transport industry.

Basically, the current HCS and the DOT standards are out of alignment. With GHS adoption, the HCS will be brought in line with the DOT classifications.

Electronic Management

1.       What electronic systems do you recommend? Is this something that your company offers?

Yes, we offer an electronic MSDS/chemical management system, and at the risk of being immodest, it’s the one we most highly recommend. That said, we think our system speaks for itself and we’ll allow other systems to speak for themselves.  We’re happy to provide a demonstration.

2.       Can MSDS books be electronic on the server instead of hard copies at each location?

Yes. OSHA is very clear on this point. Electronic management of MSDSs is compliant. Backup provisions are required, which a good system makes easy.

3.       If you already have MSDSs online will the documents automatically be updated?

Yes. If you are currently managing your MSDSs via our on-demand solutions, we will continue to make updates to our leading online database of safety data sheets. When an update to an MSDS you have in your eBinder (think of the eBinder as your MSDS library) is made to our database, we will alert you. If you receive an MSDS that’s not in our library, you can add it yourself — or if you need an MSDS we don’t have, notify us and we’ll procure it for you.


1.       Is the English language requirement part of the international standard or OSHA's Reg?

The English requirement for labels and MSDSs is an OSHA Hazard Communication Standard requirement. Other languages are permitted in addition to English. Training, however, must be done in a language your employees understand.

2.       What is SARA and what does it stand for?

SARA stands for The Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act. In short, it outlines the obligations facilities have to provide information to state and local emergency responders, as well as, providing right to know access to the public about chemical hazards. Learn more on our SARA resource page.

3.       Where does "control banding" fit in to the GHS?

Control Banding is not an official part of GHS adoption, even though it was aggressively pushed for by some stakeholders; nevertheless, OSHA states in its proposal that GHS alignment should make it easier for U.S. companies to employ control banding. Learn more about Control Banding on the CDC Website.

4.       Do you feel this standard change will be in effect before the end of the year?

Yes. We may have some bets going in the office as to the exact date. But OSHA’s last timeline focused on Q1.

5.       What can be done about inventory list that just lists Trade names and not the chemical names that comprise the product?  Many companies, by listing the Trade Name in the inventory think they are compliant yet they have no idea of the chemicals in use in their facility?

We agree that it is important for employers and workers to understand what chemical are being used in a facility. This is an issue that goes beyond the use of Trade Names. For instance, some folks just look at a mixture’s big picture, without understanding the ingredients contained within, which can have implications on things like SARA reporting.

6.       Have you heard anything on states that have their own OSHA state plans like California?  I assume they will follow the feds like other standards after the final ruling?

As with all OSHA standards, states cannot reduce the protections mandated on the federal level.

7.       Lab standard is used in many labs - it is different from HazCom, expect there will have to be some coordination with the lab standard.

Yes, there will be coordination with the lab standard. In fact, OSHA issued new Laboratory Safety Guidelines last October.

8.       What changes will written plans need?
9.       Will OSHA's revised HCS clearly indentify the changes employers will need to make to their written programs?  Also will the revised standard provide clear direction regarding training requirements?

OSHA is not proposing any specific modifications to the written program, beyond changing references to material safety data sheets (MSDS) to safety data sheets (SDS).

However, OSHA is making employee training a core component of its GHS alignment and will require employee training within two years of the final rule’s effective date. Training must include educating employees on how to understand GHS formatted SDSs and labels.