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GHS Labeling Changes

By Brian McFadden

drums with GHS labeling

Every two years, the UN publishes a new revision of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS), a standardized system for identifying and communicating chemical hazards. These revisions are an important part of the overall GHS approach. The system needs to adapt to changing needs in global industry, and each new edition builds on the one that came before. But what do these changes mean for the typical facility? How do labels need to change to stay up to date?

The GHS Framework

GHS Classification logoDespite the frequent revisions, the underlying framework of GHS remains consistent.

  1. Each chemical is analyzed with standardized laboratory tests. (If test data is already available and accurate, retesting is not required; existing data may be used.)
  2. The lab data is compared to the classification criteria in the GHS standard. The appropriate hazard classes and categories are assigned, describing the nature and severity of the chemical’s hazards.
  3. The hazard classification, along with other required information, is documented in a consistent 16-part format (the Safety Data Sheet, or SDS). Additionally, each container is labeled with six standardized design elements. The SDS and label include details that are specified by the hazard classification.

Worldwide, more than 70 countries have adopted this framework for their chemical safety regulations. In the United States, for example, OSHA used the GHS framework for the 2012 overhaul of the Hazard Communication Standard, or HazCom 2012.

Variations in the Details

While the overall framework is consistent whenever GHS is used, the details of the system have changed over time. A material that was originally classified under one edition of GHS may need to be classified again to follow another edition.

Additionally, each participating country is free to adjust the details of the system to suit their own needs. For example, OSHA added a new hazard class for Combustible Dusts, and made the environmental hazard elements optional, for their HazCom 2012 implementation.

As a result of this variation, it’s important to understand which version of the standard is being used in a given situation. Companies that do business internationally may even need to follow one version of GHS with some customers, and a different version with others.

Changes in GHS Revision 7 (2017)

Best Practice Guide to GHS LabelingThe most recent version of the UN’s international GHS standard is Revision 7, which was published in 2017. It included several revisions to classification criteria, but only a few changes affected labeling or other documentation.

  • Hazard Class Clarifications. Adjustments were made to the classification criteria for Category 1 in the Flammable Gases class. Additionally, several health hazards (Skin Corrosion/Irritation, Serious Eye Damage/Irritation, Respiratory or Skin Sensitization, Carcinogenicity, Reproductive Toxicity, and Specific Target Organ Toxicity) had their categorization criteria clarified.
  • New Precautionary Statement. A new standardized phrase, Precautionary Statement P503, was added in Revision 7 to address disposal concerns. It reads: “Refer to manufacturer/supplier … for information on disposal/recovery/recycling.”
  • Precautionary Statement Revisions. Two other standardized statements, numbered P103 and P280, were extended slightly for clarification.
  • Special Documentation. The revision included extended coverage of documentation for bulk products in international shipping.

You can learn more about this current version of GHS, along with details of the system’s structure and the requirements for container labels and Safety Data Sheets, with a free Guide to International GHS Labeling.

Prior Changes: Revision 6 (2015)

The previous revision of GHS, Revision 6, came into effect in 2015. It included numerous updates and edits to the standard, mostly regarding the chemical classification process, with a few minor changes recommended for GHS labels.

  • New Hazard Class: Desensitized Explosives. This class covers materials that would otherwise be treated as explosives, but have been modified for safety purposes. While less dangerous than other explosives, Desensitized Explosives still pose a distinct threat.
  • New Hazard Category: Pyrophoric Gases. This special category under the Flammable Gases class is for gases that may ignite spontaneously when exposed to air. The update included guidance for creating pyrophoric gas labels, including a symbol (Flame), signal word (“Danger”), and hazard statement (“May ignite spontaneously if exposed to air”).
  • Hazard Class Clarifications. Adjustments were made to the classification criteria for the Explosives, Acute Organ Toxicity, Aspiration Hazard, and Aquatic Environment Hazard classes.
  • Precautionary Statement Revisions. Minor adjustments were made to the standardized text of several Precautionary Statements.
  • Additional Information for the SDS. The update included additional information to be included in Section 9 (Physical and Chemical Properties) of the SDS. These details, such as safety characteristics and test results, are helpful for communicating hazards.

Updating Your Compliance Efforts

To stay up to date, know whether your facility and products are affected by the changes in the GHS standard. Even if the changes don’t directly affect your company, you may need to watch for changes to a national law or local regulation, or you may need to work directly with your customers to ensure that they have the information they need. Open communication is key.

You’ll need to maintain both your SDS forms and your container labels. The 16-part Safety Data Sheet format is staying essentially the same, but adjustments to the classification and the standardized hazard statements or precautionary statements may require attention.

When it’s time to print updated container labels to reflect these changes, trust the DuraLabel line of industrial printers and supplies to help you get the job done right. With integrated software, you can quickly create updated and compliant GHS container labels for all of your chemicals, as well as handling other facility labeling like pipe marking, wayfinding, and instruction labels.

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