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Implementing the GHS for Chemical Safety

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The Globally Harmonized System of Classifying Chemicals (GHS) is a set of universal guidelines developed by the United Nations to ensure safe production, handling, transport, use and disposal of hazardous materials throughout many countries. It is not a regulation but a rather a best practice based on the health, physical and environmental effects of the chemical.


Sixty-five countries are in the process of adopting the GHS system. Each country can choose how to implement GHS and which parts they choose to implement. Many countries are choosing to implement in phases. Australia will be fully implemented by January 1, 2017, Canada by December 1, 2018, the EU on June 1, 2015, and the US is requiring product manufacturers to be compliant June 1, 2015 with distributors following on December 1,2015 and employers fully compliant by June 1, 2016.


The GHS provides two communication elements: one is a safety data sheet (SDS). These had previously been referred to as material safety data sheets (MSDS). Under GHS, the SDS is written so that a worker with limited language skills can understand the information given. There are 16 standard sections on an SDS. Emergency information is on the front side with technical information on the back.


The other element is labeling, which is designed so that a worker will know if the chemical is hazardous and how hazardous based on six standard elements now on all labels. First, the label will contain a product identifier that is the same as the one listed on the SDS. Also listed will be supplier information. Signal words are now used in labeling: ‘Danger’ is used for the most dangerous hazards, and ‘Warning’ for less severe. An additional hazard statement must be on the label as well.



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