Hazard Communication: What is GHS?

This article is the first in a three part series on Hazard Communication and chemical safety.

What is GHS?

In the most basic of terms, GHS is the revised Hazard Communication program adopted by the occupation safety and health administration (OSHA). More specifically, GHS is an acronym for Globally Harmonized System of classification and labeling of chemicals. OSHA explains, “This is a system for standardizing and harmonizing the classification and labeling of chemicals.”


OSHA explains GHS has three main purposes: defining health, physical and environmental hazards of chemicals, creating a classification process that uses chemical data to compare with defined hazard criteria, and communicating hazard information and protective measures in the form of labels and safety data sheets. These goals of course will not only require our currently used Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to be replaced by an SDS and an update to manufacturer labeling but, there are regulatory required changes to your internal workplace labeling system and hazard communication program. We will discuss the details of those changes in a later post.

GHS provides a globally recognized method for hazard communication to replace the country specific method currently in practice. This only applies to countries which have adopted this program- over 67 countries to date. When shipping chemicals internationally to countries which have adopted GHS, the program eliminates the requirement for multiple labeling and MSDS. This assumes the information is already translated according to any country specific language requirements.

Major Changes

Hazard communication has seen many changes with the adoption and implementation of GHS, including labeling, hazard classification, and safety data sheets (SDS). Chemical manufacturers, distributors, and importers have always been required to determine the health and physical hazards of the chemicals they produce or import and list the information on the MSDS. GHS provides specifics on determining health and physical hazards so that information is reviewed and compared to the new standard and listed on the SDS and product label.

Material Safety Data Sheets contain eight required sections, many companies voluntarily provided additional information about the material. The format of the information was determined by each company. GHS requires an expanded 16 section requirement with a specific format. OSHA offers a quick reference guide:  https://www.osha.gov/Publications/HazComm_QuickCard_SafetyData.html.

Labels are also seeing a major revision under the new standard. Manufacturer and workplace labeling will be required to include the product identifier, supplier information, signal word, hazard statement, pictograms and precautionary statement for each hazard class and category. OSHA offers a quick reference guide for labels: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/HazComm_QuickCard_Labels.html .

We will cover these changes in greater detail in the next installment, but for those interested in reading the full text of the regulation, it is available on the OSHA website: https://www.osha.gov/dsg/hazcom/index.html


  1. […] This article is the second in a three part series on hazard standards and labeling. Read the first article on GHS here. […]