GHS is an acronym for The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. Prior to the development of the GHS system, countries were using different labels and classifications for them chemicals. As global trade increased, it became difficult to track multiple different systems, so the United Nations, at the 1992 Conference on Environment and Development, also called the Earth Summit, decided that they wanted to have “A globally harmonized hazard classification and compatible labelling system, including material safety data sheets and easily understandable symbols… by the year 2000".
In 2003, as a result of the 1992 discussion, the UN adopted the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). In 2005, the United Nations released the UN GHS Purple Book, a guidance document (it’s actually thousands of pages, so it’s a bit more than a document) which is now updated every two years. The book defines the hazards of chemicals and harmonizes classification criteria. It also standardizes the content and format of chemical labels and Safety Data Sheets. The UN Purple Book serves as a guide, however, and not a legally binding regulation. Countries complying with GHS labeling still have to create laws and regulations within their country implementing GHS standards.
In 2012, OSHA (The Occupational Safety and Health Administration) revised its chemical classification and labeling standards to comply with the GHS. In order to be in compliance with this standard (OSHA’s 29 CFR 1910.1200(e) regulation), labs must develop a hazard communication plan and their labels must contain the 6 elements that the GHS requires. These 6 requirements are signal word, pictograms, manufacturer information, precautionary statements, hazard statements, and product identification.
Signal word: This describes the threat level of the chemical. Danger is a serious risk, while warning is a lower risk.
Pictogram: This is the symbol indicating health risk such as acute toxic or severe toxic, environmental risk, or chemical risk, such as flame or explosives.
Manufacturer Information: Name of the manufacturer and their contact information.
Precautionary Statements: Preventative, response, storage, and disposal precautions that should be taken when handling or using the hazardous material.
Hazard Statements: Used to describe the degree and the nature of the hazardous material.
Product Identification: The chemical or product’s name.
Check out our infographic on elearn.nsh.org for a printable version of the GHS label requirements.