What is GHS?
GHS stands for the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. GHS was developed by the United Nations to bring into agreement the chemical regulations and standards of different countries. In short, it is an international attempt to get all countries on the same page when it comes to defining and communicating chemical hazards.
Born out of the United Nations ‘Earth Summit’ of 1992, over 65 countries have already adopted, or are in the process of adopting, GHS, including the United States, Mexico and Canada. GHS is primarily concerned with the classification of chemicals and the communication of hazards related to those chemicals to users of the products downstream via warning labels and safety data sheets.
GHS is not a law unto itself; rather it is a system with components countries can adopt into their own systems. In other words, HCS remains the law in the U.S., and WHMIS will continue to be the law in Canada; however, their alignment with GHS changes both HCS and WHMIS in ways that have significant consequences for chemical manufacturers and employers in both countries.
GHS adoption affects everyone in the chemical lifecycle, and includes special responsibilities for chemical manufacturers and employers that handle, use and store hazardous materials. GHS adoption requires chemical manufacturers to reclassify their chemicals using standardized GHS classification criteria, as well as to produce GHS-aligned labels and safety data sheets (SDSs). Employers must train employees on GHS (how to understand new labels and safety data sheets); must manage new SDSs, replacing their old library of MSDSs; and must be able to produce compliant GHS-aligned workplace labels as needed. For additional information, be sure to check out our sample SDS and GHS Label Guide.
Learn more at the GHS Answer Center.
Compliance is key.
There's good evidence to suggest that OSHA and other enforcement bodies are serious about enforcing chemical-related regulations and standards. Since 2009, OSHA has cited over 42,000 instances of HazCom violations in workplaces across the United States. In 2012, HazCom moved up from the #3 spot to #2 on OSHA's most frequently cited standards list (behind only fall protection). And in Canada, WHMIS penalties of up to $1 million in fines and two years in prison will remain a serious consideration for anyone with obligations under Canada’s hazard communication standard.
Ultimately, employers have a responsibility to keep their employees safe. For that reason, and to ensure full compliance, VelocityEHS recommends companies get in front and stay in front of all GHS-affected rules and regulations as soon as possible. If you are looking for a GHS-formatted SDS, try our MSDS Search tool.