The 411 on the Globally Harmonized System

GHS Labeling

If you work with hazardous chemicals, you have likely heard about the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals or GHS. In a nutshell, the GHS was developed by the United Nations as a way to bring into agreement the chemical regulations and standards of different countries. In the United States, OSHA revised its Hazard Communication Standard to align with the GHS in March of 2012.

GHS LabelingWhy all the fuss? The GHS is basically an international attempt to get everyone on the same page. The United Nations realized that many countries already have/had regulatory systems in place for classification, labeling, etc.; however the differences are significant enough to require multiple classifications, labels, and safety data sheets for the same product. Multiple classifications can lead to inconsistent protection for users as well as extensive regulatory burdens on chemical companies. The hope is that every country will incorporate the GHS elements into their own chemical management systems with the goal of making the international sale and transportation of hazardous chemicals easier, as well as making workplace conditions safer for all employees exposed to chemical hazards.

So what does this mean to me?

To date, over 65 countries have adopted (or are in the process of adopting) the GHS. If your company acquires chemicals from one of these countries, you will benefit from a consistent set of criteria regarding definitions, classifications, labeling and safety data sheet information for the chemical you use. In the United States, you will notice two significant changes contained in the revised OSHA Hazard Communication Standard. The revised standard requires the use of new labeling elements and a standardized format for Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), formerly known as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs). The new labeling elements and SDS requirements will improve your understanding of the hazards associated with the chemicals in your workplace.

When does this all take effect? To help companies comply with the revised standard, OSHA is phasing in the specific requirements over several years (December 1, 2013 to June 1, 2016). Specifically, by December 1, 2013, employers should have trained their employees on the new label elements and safety data sheet format.

By June 1, 2015, chemical manufacturers, importers, distributors and employers must come into compliance with all modified provisions of the final rule. Further, by December 1, 2015, distributors shall not ship containers labeled by the chemical manufacturer or importer unless it has a GHS label. Finally, by June 1, 2016, employers must update alternative workplace labeling and their hazard communication program as necessary, and provide additional employee training for newly identified physical or health hazards.

Employers will need to ensure they have incorporated the revised Hazard Communication Standard into their Hazard Communication program including replacing current MSDSs and labels with updated (GHS appropriate) SDSs and labels as well as train their employees in the new standard, however, once everyone is “singing—in harmony—from the same sheet of music,” a safer workplace will be the payoff.

If you would like more information or need to complete the required employee training on the new Hazard Communication Standard, contact Randy Free at 407-353-8165 or email him at

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