What is GHS? Learn about The Globally Harmonized System

In this blog post we will provide you with a brief overview of what the GHS is, the benefits of this system and why you should implement it in your business.

Published July 13, 2022

3 minute read

In this blog post we will provide you with a brief overview of what the GHS is, the benefits of this system and why you should implement it in your business.

What is GHS?

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, or simply the Global Harmonizing System (GHS), is the United Nation’s system of standardization and harmonization of chemical labelling and classification on a global level.

The three main components of GHS are: hazard classification, chemical labelling, and safety data sheets. More specifically, the main goals of GHS are:

  • Classification of chemical hazards according to GHS standards, including pure chemicals and chemical mixes.
  • Communication and labelling of hazards through universal warning pictograms, signal words and statements, and standardized Safety Data Sheets (SDS).

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All GHS standards are outlined in a main document called the GHS Purple Book. The GHS Purple Book is the main pillar of GHS, containing all the relevant information needed for successful implementation of GHS across the globe. The latest, 8th revision of the GHS Purple Book is now available in print, and features updates in several areas. Some significant alterations in the 8th revision include:

  • New criteria for systematizing flammable gasses, which are now clearer and stricter regarding the pyrophoric gases and unstable gases

  • Minor changes to definitions of health hazard classes, including:
    • skin corrosion and irritation
    • eye irritation
    • dermal irritation
    • serious eye damage
    • carcinogenicity
  • Specific precautionary statements are rationalized in Annex 3.
    • Other have been expanded – the statement P503 (advise to refer to manufacturer or supplier for info on disposal, recovery and recycling) has now been added for certain explosives.
  • The coverage of Section 14 (Transport Information) of the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) has been extended to all bulk cargoes transported via the International Maritime Organization, for all physical states of the cargo.

  • Labelling of small packaging with fold-out labels has been addressed and defined through an example in Annex 7 and the fold-out labels allow for more information to be featured in limited space.

You can find the official list of amends to GHS Version 7 here.


Benefits of GHS Adoption

GHS is a crown of international efforts to regulate the issue of chemical hazards. The harmonization and universality of labelling and classification that GHS offers are a long-called-for advancement in chemical safety on a global chemical market.

By providing clear warnings and instructions, GHS ensures better protection for the end users, as well as workers involved in the production and distributions of chemicals. GHS benefits the global chemical trade as well, since it facilitates trade by simplifying import and export administrative and safety procedures.

The main GHS audience groups are industrial workers, safety workers, transport workers, emergency responders, and consumers – basically, all groups that come into regular contact with hazardous chemicals in any stage of product’s lifecycle. All these groups benefit greatly from clear and unified hazard communication, making their interaction with chemical products safer and easier.


GHS in Chemical Labelling

The Globally Harmonized System covers all hazardous chemicals, which are divided into three major groups:

  • Physical hazards
  • Health hazards
  • Environmental hazards.

The chemicals in these categories include those found in the workplace, in transport and consumer products, as well as pesticides and pharmaceuticals. GHS standardized elements which are featured on every hazard label. They include:

  • Hazard Pictogram(s) - Specific information about a hazard expressed through standardized visual symbols.
  • Product Identifier - Chemical identity the name of the substance or a hazardous ingredient.
  • Signal Word - There are only two standard signal words: Danger and Warning
  • Supplier Identification - Name, address and telephone number of a chemical manufacturer or supplier.
  • Hazard Statement - Standardized phrase that describes the hazard in accordance with the GHS hazard classification.
  • Precautionary Statement - Standardized expression that recommends measures for preventing and/or minimizing adverse effects.


GHS in Safety Data Sheets

Safety Data Sheet (SDS) notifies the users about the hazards of a substance in question, and informs about safety precaution measures. All substances or mixtures which fall into a certain hazard class, or contain a hazardous ingredient in higher concentrations then the prescribed limits should be equipped with a relevant SDS. 

When providing Safety Data Sheets for different countries or markets, it is essential to translate them to the official language of the end country and to check whether the countries in question have additional requirements for some segments of SDSs.


sds sheet


GHS Implementation

GHS is implemented in different ways by different regions.  For example, Canada have implemented the GHS through their Workplace Hazardous Materials System (WHMIS), the EU uses the CLP Regulation and the US have incorporated the requirements through HazCom.

You can explore the full list of countries which implement UN’s GHS here.

Note that different countries can be at different stages of GHS implementation. For example, one of the biggest traders on the global market – China – currently implements standards in compliance with the 4th revised edition of GHS. Also, additional requirements and regulations can be added to UN’s basic GHS standard by individual governments. Enterprises and businesses should always check GHS specifics of an end country. 

Hopefully this article will help give you an introduction to GHS and the best practices for implementing safe chemical processes in your workplace.


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