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Global Harmonization Overview

What is GHS?

The Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labeling for Chemicals is an initiative undertaken by the United Nations to establish a worldwide coordinated system for the classification and labeling of chemical products. GHS was developed to enhance the protection of humans and the environment using standard hazard phrases and pictograms and to facilitate international chemicals trade by making it easier to export/import chemicals.

GHS is neither a global law nor a regulation. It is a system or set of recommendations that utilizes a “building block” approach to chemical hazard identification. Each country is free to determine which of the building blocks it will adopt, but the portions of GHS that are adopted must follow the GHS standard. Each country that has adopted GHS then must establish its own regulatory framework and implementation timeline. While GHS is a major improvement towards a single standard, there still will be specific regional/country regulatory differences.

GHS Compliance Requirements

All chemicals classified under the new standard must have:

  • defined hazard categories and classifications 
  • mandated hazard and precautionary statements
  • standardized pictograms reflecting hazard classifications
  • the prescribed label format
  • a 16-section safety data sheet in  standard format

Each country that adopts GHS develops country-specific regulations that mandate how and when GHS must be implemented. For example, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the primary responsible agency for GHS in the U.S. OSHA adopted portions of GHS (excluding environmental standards) resulting in the new Hazard Communications System (HCS) 2012. In Europe, GHS was transposed into the Classification, Labeling and Packaging regulation (CLP), which covers the requirements for classifying, labeling and packaging substances and mixtures within the EU member countries. The CLP regulation complements the EU REACH regulations.

GHS Impact

Any company that manufactures, imports, distributes, transports or uses hazardous chemicals is affected by GHS, which covers all hazardous chemicals without exception. The term “chemical” is used to broadly include substances, products, mixtures and preparations. All chemical manufacturers, importers, exporters and distributors who are responsible for the manufacture, distribution and/or importation of chemicals into GHS-compliant countries must follow the GHS rules.