The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals

Understanding the GHS


The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) is a worldwide initiative to promote standard criteria for classifying chemicals according to their hazards and communicating hazard information on labels and safety data sheets.

 GHS was developed by international mandate to:

  • Benefit countries, international organizations and chemical producers
  • Enhance the protection of humans and the environment
  • Facilitate international chemicals trade
  • Reduce redundant and costly testing and evaluation

How soon should we expect to see GHS adopted in the US? According to Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, it could be as soon as August of 2011, which is when the final OSHA GHS ruling is scheduled. Transitioning your organization to GHS will not be an overnight process. To become GHS compliant, MSDSs need re-authored into the new standardized Safety Data Sheet (SDS) format. Containers will need to be re-labeled to include the appropriate signal words, pictograms and hazard statements. Employees will need re-training, and written procedures must be updated.

Application of the GHS
The goal of GHS is to identify intrinsic hazards in chemical substances and their mixtures and communicate these effectively to cover every level of literacy and user contact. The existing hazard communications elements in Transport, Workplace, Consumer and Pesticide sectors can be converged, according to GHS guidelines.

The Building block approach
The GHS was designed to be flexible, the so-called “building block” approach. The system is designed so that countries with existing hazard communication regulations can chose particular “blocks” of GHS to either superimpose or connect to existing regulations, and so that countries new to this endeavor can apply all available GHS guidance “blocks” to the foundation of their regulatory programs. For more information and a pamphlet explaining the GHS transition from OSHA’a prospective, go to: and download the GHS “Purple Book”.

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