The GHS is one of OSHA’s most far-reaching regulations of the past decade. The maximum penalty for not complying with GHS regulations is now over $15,000, and that expense doesn’t include potential health or environmental fines resulting from accidents or improper chemical disposal. If you need to boost your facility safety but find the guidelines overwhelming, explore this brief introduction to GHS, including how to spot compliance issues, which hazard communication tools can help your processes, and tips and tools to support your methods.

What Is GHS?

GHS stands for Globally Harmonized System, which is a method of classification and labeling of chemicals for hazard communication and safety. A 

globally harmonized classification system provides uniform information across industries, including in warehouses, on construction sites, in chemical manufacturing, and for emergency response agencies, allowing every organization to comprehend and comply with regulations regarding the safe handling and use of chemicals. GHS organizes communication similarly to color-coded visual cues, providing information using universal signal words, pictograms, and wording.

Standardized communication is achieved by adopting agreed-upon “language” for communicating requirements and hazards. For example, GHS-formatted Safety Data Sheets and labeling are identical for the same chemical regardless of if it was manufactured in Europe, Asia, or North America, and no matter the language the maker of the chemical used in labeling. This standardized GHS language reduces miscommunication and helps eliminate confusion for anyone interacting with the chemical.

Benefits of GHS

GHS is important because it provides universal information about chemical hazards across industries and language barriers, improving understanding for better safety. When the chemical manufacturer, distributor, or importers use this universal system, safe handling, transport, storage, and disposal information is easier to interpret.

Before GHS, there were significant differences in how chemical hazards were labeled and categorized—which created confusion, added expense due to extra testing, and contributed to unsafe working conditions. Since GHS has been implemented, companies across the globe have seen benefits, including:

  • Better compliance
  • Improved hazard communication
  • Reduced environmental impact from improper disposal
  • Improved emergency response
  • Safer handling and transport
  • Facilitate international trade 

Are You GHS Compliant?

The OSHA regulation for Hazard Communication¹ states that chemical-specific information and training must be available on labels and Safety Data Sheets for any chemicals employees are exposed to—and must be updated when any new chemicals or hazards are introduced. Failure to comply with labeling rules can result in thousands of dollars in fines, yet these violations have simple solutions.

Examine your chemical supply closet, work areas, and SDS stations to determine whether or not your facility is GHS compliant. Knowing what to look for can make this assessment efficient and informative. Use these tips to determine if your Safety Data Sheets, chemical labels, or employee training meets GHS requirements, or if it falls short.

SDS Sheets

Review your Safety Data Sheet binders and locations for any that are marked “MSDS” (Material Safety Data Sheet). MSDS was replaced by SDS in 2015 and now follows the standardized formatting of GHS, so if you find any that are not formatted as SDS, your business is not compliant with current regulations.

Material Safety Data Sheets only have 8 sections of information and lack the hazard statement, pictograms, and other details that are included in the newer SDS format. Inadequate information can lead to improper handling of hazardous chemicals, putting your employees at risk. Replacing MSDS with SDS helps bring your work floor up to code—but until you have swapped to the correct format, you’re at risk of fines due to non-compliance.

GHS Chemical Labels

Using secondary containers without properly labeling them is a GHS violation that carries hefty fines, but luckily, a thorough visual inspection of your shop floor can identify lapses in compliance. Look at all containers, including seemingly harmless ones, and make sure you can read the labels and know what the vessels contain. If you’re confused, your workers will be too. Similarly, if you find labels that are peeling off, damaged, or outdated, you must replace the labels to be in compliance with OSHA regulations.

Staff Surveys & Training

A simple check-in with your staff is the easiest way to know whether or not everyone is properly trained on hazard communication. Survey your workforce to determine if they understand what a secondary label is used for, how to fill one out, how to read one, and where the Safety Data Sheets are located. If your staff isn’t trained, you aren’t in compliance.

How to Improve GHS Compliance

Improving your hazard communication tools can bring your facility into compliance by meeting or exceeding the GHS regulations. These tools include container labels, SDS binders, and employee training materials, all of which are relatively inexpensive—especially compared to fines. Explore these tools and strategies that can help strengthen hazard communication in your facility:

1. Update Secondary Containers for GHS Label Requirements

A GHS label is the easiest way to get your hazardous chemical containers up to date. Simply transfer data from the original container’s label and corresponding SDS to a GHS secondary container label. Our in-house designed labels have a place for all of the data from the chemical’s original label, including:

  • Chemical Manufacturer Information
  • Product Identifier 
  • Signal Word (Danger or Warning)
  • Hazard Statement(s)
  • Precautionary Statement
  • Supplementary Information

We offer two label sizes for large and small containers so you can get the label to suit your needs. And, with any label purchase, we provide an editable document to plan and create your company’s Written Hazard Communication Program to help you make sure your written plan and your work floor are in compliance with OSHA’s regulations.

2. Organize & Update SDS Stations

Compliance with GHS regulations means your SDS station is current and employees know where to find it and how to use it. Every chemical in your shop must have a data sheet available for reference. If one is missing or you still use the outdated MSDS format, request a safety data sheet from the distributor or manufacturer immediately. Organize your SDS resources and install signage or floor markers to keep the area highly visible and easy to locate. Our pre-cut SDS floor marking kit provides clear messaging and is easy to install.

3. Improve Training & Visual Cues

Provide detailed hazard communication training and reinforce the knowledge with visual aids and reminders. Our SDS training booklets include practical information about the GHS requirements and are available in English and Spanish. Keep these booklets near your SDS station and encourage employees to review the regulations periodically, include these resources as part of your new employee training for a solid foundation regarding hazard communication.

Install visual cues in your workplace to emphasize proper chemical safety practices in accordance with the Safety Data Sheets. Floor signs or tape are easy to install on most industrial facility floors and provide valuable reminders in areas where personal protective equipment must be worn, or locations that prohibit flammable chemicals or acids to prevent violations and accidents.

4. Assess Your Hazard Communication Plan

OSHA requires that a business hazard communication program—which includes secondary labeling, Safety Data Sheets, and employee training—has a written plan stating how each element will be addressed within the facility. Your plan should include an inventoried list of all hazardous chemicals in your facility, the methods you will use to label secondary containers, how you will maintain accurate Safety Data Sheets, and how you will train employees on GHS and chemical safety. Evaluate your plan periodically and update if chemicals, hazards, or processes change. You may find that making this process part of your continuous improvement model helps you stay on top of the requirements.

Review our GHS Resources to find videos, articles, and additional information about GHS compliance. Our GHS labels and SDS station organizers will help bring your processes up-to-date and ensure employees have the information needed for safe chemical handling, storage, and transport. For more ways to improve safety around workplace hazards, visit our Resource Center