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Ask Brian: GHS or HazCom?

By Brian McFadden

ghs hazcom label on drum

The safety and compliance professionals at Graphic Products receive countless questions about workplace health and safety, which is why we're introducing a new blog series, “Ask Brian.” In this series, Brian McFadden, a Compliance Specialist with Graphic Products, will answer your toughest safety questions in easy-to-understand language and provide free training materials and additional resources. His first question tackles the subject of chemical labeling


“I’ve seen some things about “HazCom,” but I’ve been gearing up for GHS. They look pretty similar; are they the same? Which rules should I be paying attention to?”

Brian's Answer

Those are important questions! First, let’s define our terms:

  • GHS is an international standard from the United Nations, locally enforced (and locally modified) by the governments that choose to adopt it.
  • HazCom 2012 is OSHA's take on the GHS standard. OSHA changed a few bits here and there, and OSHA enforces it in the United States.

Compliance Expert Brian McFadden

From there, the question gets a lot easier. How do you know which system applies to you? Simple: if your materials are shipping internationally, start with the international labeling system (GHS). If the materials are staying in the United States, use OSHA’s HazCom 2012.

(Now, strictly speaking, you could use GHS labels everywhere; for labels in the U.S., you’d just have to add bits for the additional details that OSHA defines. For most situations, that would be more work. I prefer the easy approach, whenever possible.)

Now comes the surprise. The HazCom 2012 rules can actually be easier to follow than the fully-international GHS standard. Here's the biggest example: are you allowed to black out any unused diamonds on the label?

  • On HazCom 2012 labels, the deciding authority is OSHA, and they say, “Yes, if you're careful.” As a result, DuraSuite's HazCom labeling module includes that option.
  • On (international) GHS labels, the deciding authority is... whichever national government controls the area where the chemicals are going. Right now, there are more than 70 countries using at least part of GHS, so there are a lot of variations in the local rules! To ensure maximum compliance across international borders, DuraSuite's GHS labeling module does not allow for blacked-out diamonds.

The best solution, for both systems, is to avoid blacking out diamonds; match your diamonds to your pictograms. But HazCom gives you a backup solution that isn’t really there in GHS.

Safety Resources

For more information on HazCom and how to comply in the United States, request Graphic Products' free HazCom Guide. For international chemical labeling requirements, request a free GHS Guide. Graphic Products has also created a Chemical Labeling Infographic which can help you decide which label, GHS or HazCom, is appropriate.

To get more details on the diamond question, read a focused article on the topic. For an individually-tailored consultation, check out Compliance Assessment Services, Graphic Products' on-site training and evaluation program. You can also contact our support team for help.