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UN Revises GHS to Clarify Language

By Christine Torres

chemical label on drum

A United Nations panel recently revised and published a new edition of its Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) in its continued effort to keep chemical safety education up to date. This update does not have any added hazard classes or categories, but it does revise criteria, and provides new guidance along with amendments.

GHS Version 7

The changes to GHS can be found in a PDF and sidebar links, which are available on the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe website. Changes pertain mostly to updating language to help communicate information to protect workers of all backgrounds, according to UNECE:

  • Revised precautionary statements for labels
  • Revised categorization criteria for flammable gases and several health hazards
  • Extended coverage of documentation for bulk products in international shipping

Where OSHA’s Rules Stand

OSHA’s current Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) was partially based on GHS version 3, which was set in 2009. In June, OSHA said it does not see any foreseeable changes to its HCS despite the GHS update for 2017. However, this GHS update is an opportunity for companies to review and improve their training, and to ensure that consistent HazCom information is being provided to them from manufacturers, according to OSHA.

reference guide to SDS format

GHS Approach to Chemical Safety

GHS offers a consistent and effective approach to chemical safety. With this system, people have easy access to information about chemicals, and that information is arranged in a way that is easy to understand. Generally, suppliers and employers have most of the responsibility for making sure this information is available:

  • Chemical manufacturers and importers should evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import, and prepare container labels and safety data sheets to convey the hazard information to their downstream customers.
  • Employers with hazardous chemicals in their workplaces should have container labels and safety data sheets for the chemicals in their facilities, and should provide training for their employees to understand this information and handle the chemicals appropriately.

The system provides information in three key ways:

  • Labels: Consistent container labels include the identity of the material, as well as a harmonized signal word, pictograms, and hazard statements for each hazard posed by the material. Precautionary statements provide direct instructions and guidance, and supplier information ensures traceability and gives a way to find more information.
  • Safety Data Sheets: Use a 16-section format that provides detailed information, including what should be on the label. The SDS also provides additional guidance and reference information.
  • Information and Training: Each affected worker should be able to locate and understand both the label and the SDS for any chemical in their work area.

Easily Get into Compliance

Hazardous materials are all around. When working with chemicals, know about their dangers, proper handling tips and storage information can help prevent unnecessary injuries in the workplace. Effective communication through signs and labels that explain a chemical’s dangers and other information is safe practice. Communicate appropriate safety measures and precautions of workplace chemicals using premade chemical safety signs. Need to print a label with unique needs? Make chemical safety communication quickly and easily with DuraLabel industrial safety label and sign printers. 

A successful workplace safety program requires commitment to safety that is supported at the highest ranks of a company and the lowest. Graphic Products has a variety of safety label and signage compliance tools that will help spread safety communication in the most effective way. Quickly learn about the classification system and documentation requirements with a free guide to GHS. For American workplaces, see OSHA's take on the GHS system in a free guide to HazCom 2012.

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