Frequently Asked Questions About GSH

(GHS) Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals

GHS Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals  

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What is the Globally Harmonized System?
The Globally Harmonized System (GHS) is an international approach to hazard communication, providing agreed criteria for classification of chemical hazards, and a standardized approach to label elements and safety data sheets. The GHS was negotiated in a multi-year process by hazard communication experts from many different countries, international organizations, and stakeholder groups. It is based on major existing systems around the world, including OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard and the chemical classification and labeling systems of other US agencies.

The result of this negotiation process is the United Nations' document entitled "Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals," commonly referred to as The Purple Book. This document provides harmonized classification criteria for health, physical, and environmental hazards of chemicals. It also includes standardized label elements that are assigned to these hazard classes and categories, and provide the appropriate signal words, pictograms, and hazard and precautionary statements to convey the hazards to users. A standardized order of information for safety data sheets is also provided. These recommendations can be used by regulatory authorities such as OSHA to establish mandatory requirements for hazard communication, but do not constitute a model regulation.

Why did OSHA decide to modify the Hazard Communication Standard to adopt the GHS?
OSHA has modified the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) to adopt the GHS to improve safety and health of workers through more effective communications on chemical hazards. Since it was first promulgated in 1983, the HCS has provided employers and employees extensive information about the chemicals in their workplaces. The original standard is performance-oriented, allowing chemical manufacturers and importers to convey information on labels and material safety data sheets in whatever format they choose. While the available information has been helpful in improving employee safety and health, a more standardized approach to classifying the hazards and conveying the information will be more effective, and provide further improvements in American workplaces. The GHS provides such a standardized approach, including detailed criteria for determining what hazardous effects a chemical poses, as well as standardized label elements assigned by hazard class and category. This will enhance both employer and worker comprehension of the hazards, which will help to ensure appropriate handling and safe use of workplace chemicals. In addition, the safety data sheet requirements establish an order of information that is standardized. The harmonized format of the safety data sheets will enable employers, workers, health professionals, and emergency responders to access the information more efficiently and effectively, thus increasing their utility.

Adoption of the GHS in the US and around the world will also help to improve information received from other countries—since the US is both a major importer and exporter of chemicals, American workers often see labels and safety data sheets from other countries. The diverse and sometimes conflicting national and international requirements can create confusion among those who seek to use hazard information effectively. For example, labels and safety data sheets may include symbols and hazard statements that are unfamiliar to readers or not well understood. Containers may be labeled with such a large volume of information that important statements are not easily recognized. Given the differences in hazard classification criteria, labels may also be incorrect when used in other countries. If countries around the world adopt the GHS, these problems will be minimized, and chemicals crossing borders will have consistent information, thus improving communication globally.

How many businesses and workers would be affected by the revised Hazard Communication Standard?
OSHA estimates that over 5 million workplaces in the United States would be affected by the revised Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). These are all those workplaces where employees—a total of approximately 43 million of them—could be exposed to hazardous chemicals. Included among these 5 million workplaces are an estimated 90,000 establishments that create hazardous chemicals; these chemical producers employ almost 3 million workers.
What are the estimated overall costs for industry to comply with the revised Hazard Communication Standard?
The revised Hazard Communications Standard's (HCS) total cost, an estimated $201 million a year on an annualized basis for the entire United States, is the sum of four major cost elements. (1) OSHA estimates that the cost of classifying chemical hazards in accordance with the GHS criteria and revising safety data sheets and labels to meet new format and content requirements would be $22.5 million a year on an annualized basis. (2) OSHA estimates that training for employees to become familiar with new warning symbols and the revised safety data sheet format under GHS would cost $95.4 million a year on an annualized basis. (3) OSHA estimated annualized costs of $59 million a year for management to become familiar with the new GHS system and to engage in other management-related activities as may be necessary for industry's adoption of GHS. (4) OSHA estimated annualized costs of $24.1 million for printing packaging and labels for hazardous chemicals in color.
What are the estimated benefits attributable to the revised Hazard Communication Standard?
OSHA expects that the modifications to the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) will result in increased safety and health for the affected employees and reduce the numbers of accidents, fatalities, injuries, and illnesses associated with exposures to hazardous chemicals. The GHS revisions to the HCS standard for labeling and safety data sheets would enable employees exposed to workplace chemicals to more quickly obtain and to more easily understand information about the hazards associated with those chemicals. In addition, the revisions to HCS are expected to improve the use of appropriate exposure controls and work practices that can reduce the safety and health risks associated with exposure to hazardous chemicals.

OSHA estimates that the revised HCS will result in the prevention of 43 fatalities and 585 injuries and illnesses (318 non-lost-workday injuries and illnesses, 203 lost-workday injuries and illnesses, and 64 chronic illnesses) annually. The monetized value of this reduction in occupational risks is an estimated $250 million a year on an annualized basis.

OSHA estimates that the revised HCS will result in savings of $475.2 million from productivity improvements for health and safety managers and logistics personnel, $32.2 million during periodic updating of SDSs and labels, and $285.3 million from simplified hazard communication training.

OSHA anticipates that, in addition to safety and health benefits, the revised HCS will result in four types of productivity benefits: (1) for chemical manufacturers, because they will need to produce fewer SDSs in future years; (2) for employers, in providing training to new employees as required by the existing OSHA HCS through the improved consistency of the labels and SDSs. (3) for firms engaging in, or considering engaging in, international trade.

Why must training be conducted prior to the compliance effective date?
OSHA is requiring that employees are trained on the new label elements (i.e., pictograms, hazard statements, precautionary statements, and signal words) and SDS format by December 1, 2013, while full compliance with the final rule will begin in 2015. OSHA believes that American workplaces will soon begin to receive labels and SDSs that are consistent with the GHS, since many American and foreign chemical manufacturers have already begun to produce HazCom 2012/GHS-compliant labels and SDSs. It is important to ensure that when employees begin to see the new labels and SDSs in their workplaces, they will be familiar with them, understand how to use them, and access the information effectively. For more information,