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GHS (Globally Harmonized System) for Business and in the Workplace: Ensuring Safety through Consistent Hazard Communication

Streamlining Hazard Communication and Protecting Workers Worldwide

Key Takeaways:

  • The Globally Harmonized System (GHS) is a standardized hazard communication system used globally to prevent deaths and injuries caused by chemical hazards.
  • The GHS facilitates international trade, enhances protection of human health and the environment, and reduces redundant testing and evaluation of multiple classification systems.
  • Adopting the GHS allows countries to improve their existing national programs for the classification of hazardous substances and related protective measures.
  • Precautionary statements, signal words, and hazard statements form the core of the GHS, providing a standardized format for labeling hazardous chemicals.
  • Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) play a crucial role in communicating safety information about chemical substances, including properties, hazards, and safe handling procedures.
  • Hazard classification ensures that labels and SDSs accurately reflect the degree of hazard, allowing workers to quickly understand the risks associated with chemicals.
  • Training is essential to ensure effective communication and understanding of GHS elements, including labels, SDSs, and hazard symbols.


In today’s globalized world, consistent and effective communication about chemical hazards is essential to protect workers and the environment. The Globally Harmonized System (GHS) provides a standardized approach to hazard communication, ensuring that individuals, companies, and countries worldwide can mitigate the risks associated with hazardous chemicals. This article explores the significance of the GHS for businesses and workplaces, focusing on its core components and the importance of proper training.

The Globally Harmonized System (GHS) and Its Benefits

The GHS was established by the United Nations in response to the need for improved communication about chemical hazards. It offers a global standard for classifying and labeling chemicals, allowing for consistent hazard communication across borders. The benefits of adopting the GHS are far-reaching:

  1. Facilitating international trade of chemical products: By harmonizing classification and labeling requirements, the GHS streamlines the exchange of chemical products between countries, reducing barriers to trade and promoting economic growth.
  2. Enhancing the protection of human health and the environment: The GHS aims to improve the understanding of chemical hazards, enabling individuals and organizations to take appropriate precautions to safeguard their well-being and the environment.
  3. Reducing redundant and costly testing and evaluation: The GHS eliminates the need for multiple classification systems, saving resources and promoting efficiency in hazard assessment and communication.
  4. Increasing awareness of hazards and promoting safer use of chemicals: The GHS promotes greater awareness of chemical hazards, enabling workers to handle chemicals safely, and empowering consumers to make informed choices about the products they use.

Implementing the GHS: Precautionary Statements, Signal Words, and Hazard Statements

At the core of the GHS are precautionary statements, signal words, and hazard statements, which ensure a standardized format for communicating information about hazardous chemicals. These elements play a vital role in creating clear and concise labels and Safety Data Sheets (SDSs).

  1. Precautionary Statements: Precautionary statements provide guidance on the safe transportation, storage, handling, and use of hazardous products. They recommend measures to minimize or prevent adverse effects resulting from exposure to hazardous chemicals.
  2. Signal Words: The GHS requires the use of signal words to convey the severity of hazards. Two signal words are used: “Danger” for more severe hazards and “Warning” for less severe hazards. These signal words alert individuals to potential risks associated with the chemical.
  3. Hazard Statements: Hazard statements communicate specific hazards associated with a chemical substance or mixture. These statements are assigned based on the classification criteria established by organizations such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission. They provide essential information to workers and users about the nature of the hazard.

The Role of Safety Data Sheets (SDSs)

Safety Data Sheets (formerly Material Safety Data Sheets) are crucial components of the GHS. SDSs provide detailed information about hazardous chemicals, enabling users to understand their properties, hazards, safe handling procedures, and emergency response measures. SDSs ensure consistent communication of safety information across different workplaces and countries.

SDSs typically include the following sections:

  1. Identification: Product name, manufacturer or distributor, and essential contact information.
  2. Hazards Identification: Classification of the chemical hazards, including physical, health, and environmental hazards.
  3. Composition/Information on Ingredients: Details of the chemical composition and concentrations.
  4. First Aid Measures: Guidelines for providing initial medical assistance in case of exposure or accidents.
  5. Firefighting Measures: Recommendations for firefighting procedures and appropriate extinguishing methods.
  6. Accidental Release Measures: Guidance on containing and cleaning up chemical spills or leaks.
  7. Handling and Storage: Instructions for safe handling, storage conditions, and proper disposal methods.
  8. Exposure Controls/Personal Protection: Information on engineering controls, personal protective equipment (PPE), and exposure limits.
  9. Physical and Chemical Properties: Descriptions of the physical and chemical characteristics of the chemical substance.
  10. Stability and Reactivity: Information on the chemical’s stability, potential reactivity hazards, and incompatible materials.
  11. Toxicological Information: Data on the potential health effects of the chemical and relevant toxicological studies.
  12. Ecological Information: Impact of the chemical on the environment, including aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.
  13. Disposal Considerations: Guidelines for the safe disposal of the chemical substance.
  14. Transport Information: Requirements and precautions for the transportation of hazardous chemicals.
  15. Regulatory Information: Information on relevant regulations and restrictions related to the chemical.
  16. Other Information: Additional information such as the date of preparation or revision of the SDS.

Hazard Classification for Effective Communication

Hazard classification is a vital aspect of the GHS. Manufacturers evaluate chemicals based on specific criteria for the classification of health and physical hazards. The classification determines the appropriate hazard statements, pictograms, and precautionary measures that need to be included on labels and SDSs.

Labels and Signal Words

The GHS and various regulatory bodies require chemical manufacturers and importers to label packages consistently using harmonized signal words, pictograms, and hazard statements. These labels provide critical information about the hazards associated with the chemicals. Signal words, such as “Danger” or “Warning,” indicate the severity of the hazard, alerting workers to the potential risks involved.

Precautionary Statements

Precautionary statements on labels and SDSs recommend measures to minimize or prevent adverse effects resulting from chemical exposure or mishandling. These statements guide users on safe practices, storage conditions, personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements, and emergency response procedures.

Training for Effective Communication

Proper training is essential to ensure that workers and individuals responsible for developing labels and SDSs can effectively communicate and understand the information provided under the GHS. Training should cover the interpretation of labels, SDSs, and hazard symbols, as well as the appropriate actions to take in response to chemical hazards.

OSHA requires employee training on GHS elements, including the new labeling components, pictograms, signal words, and SDS format. HSI offers an online Hazard Communication (HAZCOM GHS) course that provides comprehensive and convenient training for employees and managers, ensuring compliance with OSHA standards.


The Globally Harmonized System (GHS) is a vital tool for businesses and workplaces to communicate effectively about chemical hazards. By adopting the GHS, organizations can streamline hazard communication, enhance worker safety, and contribute to the protection of human health and the environment. Precautionary statements, signal words, hazard statements, labels, and Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) are essential elements of the GHS that ensure consistent and standardized communication. Proper training is key to understanding and effectively utilizing the GHS components, empowering workers to handle hazardous chemicals safely. By embracing the GHS, businesses can create safer work environments and promote responsible chemical management on a global scale.

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