Workplace Solutions Hazard communication

HazCom and GHS

What are the similarities between the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard and the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals?

GHS Labels

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Responding is Ralph Blessing, professor, Columbia Southern University, Orange Beach, AL.

It’s now going on eight years since the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (1910.1200) was aligned with the world standard, the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. What have we learned about these two systems? Let’s look at their similarities.

The most obvious similarity is that each is meant to establish guidelines for the safe handling and storage of hazardous chemicals. They clearly do that; with the increase of importing and exporting of chemicals among countries, this requirement was a no-brainer. Both systems also employ definitions to assist in establishing the necessary standards for the understanding of terms. However, this might be where the functional similarities end between the two.

The use of labels, such as workplace and shipping labels, can be considered a similarity. However, the GHS system possesses more information – such as signal words, hazard statements and pictograms – than the HCS. This labeling program must be updated when information in the systems changes significantly. Both systems retain the concept of delivery of data to the end user through the use of the Safety Data Sheet. The fact that the systems require the manufacturer to update the SDS as changes occur is another similarity.

The GHS and HCS provide for trade-secret provisions with regard to the contents and specific amounts in fabricating the hazardous material. Although both systems are supportive of the requirement for divulging that information, both possess the process of self-classification when establishing hazard determination or classification. That is, when a chemical is distributed, the supplier already has classified it, which is required for all chemical mixtures.

As you delve into the standards and regulations of both, other similarities arise – albeit miniscule – with regard to health and physical hazards, label elements, and the SDS.

This isn’t to say one system is better than the other, but that the necessity to establish a single system of guidance to identify aspects of hazardous chemicals that pose a threat to the environment and workers was paramount. After all, the importing and exporting of hazardous chemicals are no longer a one-nation problem. This is the new global norm.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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