Environmental Health and Safety

Safety Programs > Hazard Communication Guide


RTK and GHS 2013,2014, and 2015 Update to Hazard Communication

You have a right to know the hazard of the chemicals you work with! This information is supplied through the label and the MSDS/SDS. See your supervisor for a copy of the information before you work with the chemical.

The entire SUNY New Paltz Right to Know procedure can be found rtk2014.


A short introduction to GHS:

What is the Globally Harmonized System (GHS)?

GHS stands for the "Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals." GHS is a system that defines and classifies the hazards of chemical products, and communicates health and safety information on labels and material safety data sheets (called Safety Data Sheets, or SDSs, in GHS). The goal is that the same set of rules for classifying hazards, and the same format and content for labels and safety data sheets (SDS), will be adopted and used around the world. An international team of hazard communication experts developed GHS.


Why is global harmonization necessary?

Currently many different countries have different systems for classification and labeling of chemical products. In addition, several different systems can exist even within the same country. This situation has been expensive for governments to regulate and enforce, costly for companies who have to comply with many different systems, and confusing for workers who need to understand the hazards of a chemical in order to work safely.


GHS promises to deliver several distinct benefits. Among them are:

  • Promoting regulatory efficiency
  • Facilitating trade
  • Easing compliance
  • Reducing costs
  • Providing improved, consistent hazard information
  • Encouraging the safe transport, handling and use of chemicals
  • Promoting better emergency response to chemical incidents
  • Reducing the need for animal testing


What is the scope of GHS?

The GHS system covers all hazardous chemicals and may be adopted to cover chemicals in the workplace, transport, consumer products, pesticides and pharmaceuticals. The target audiences for GHS include workers, transport workers, emergency responders and consumers.


What are the two major elements of GHS?

1. Classification of the hazards of chemicals according to the GHS rules:

GHS provides guidance on classifying pure chemicals and mixtures according to its criteria or rules.

2. Communication of the hazards and precautionary information using Safety Data Sheets and labels:

Labels - With the GHS system, certain information will appear on the label. For example, the chemical identity may be required. Standardized hazard statements, signal words and symbols will appear on the label according to the classification of that chemical or mixture. Precautionary statements may also be required, if adopted by your regulatory authority.

Safety Data Sheets (SDS) - The GHS SDS has 16 sections in a set order, and information requirements are prescribed.


What are some key terms in the GHS Vocabulary?

1. SDS (Safety Data Sheet)

SDS is the term used by GHS for Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). Hazard group - While not given a formal definition, GHS divides hazards into three major groups - health, physical and environmental.Class - Class is the term used to describe the different hazards. For example, "Gases under Pressure" is an example of a class in the physical hazards group.

2. Category

Category is the name used to describe the sub-sections of classes. For example, Self-Reactive Chemicals have seven categories. Each category has rules or criteria to determine what chemicals are assigned to that category.

3. Hazard Statement

For each category of a class, a standardized statement is used to describe the hazard. For example, the hazard statement for chemicals which meet the criteria for the self-heating substances and mixtures class, Category 1 is "Self-heating; may catch fire." This hazard statement would appear both on the label and on the SDS.

4. Signal Word

There are two signal words in the GHS system: "Danger" and "Warning." These signal words are used to communicate the level of hazard on both the label and the SDS. The appropriate signal word to use is set out by the classification system. For example, the signal word for self-heating substances and mixtures, Category 1, is "Danger," while "Warning" is used for the less serious Category 2. There are categories where no signal word is used.

5. Pictogram

Pictogram refers to the GHS symbol on the label and SDS. Not all categories have a symbol associated with them.

Here is an OSHA pocket guide to the new oshaictogram.


What is meant by the GHS hazard groupings and "building block" concept?

Within the GHS classification system, there are three major hazard groups:

  • Physical hazards
  • Health hazards
  • Environmental hazards

Within each of these hazard groups there are "classes" and "categories." Each of these parts is called a "building block." Each country can determine which building blocks of the GHS system it will use in their different sectors (workplace, transportation, consumers). Once the building blocks are chosen, the corresponding GHS rules for classification and labels must be used.


What are the classes within the health hazard group?

Criteria for classifying chemicals have been developed for the following health hazard classes:

  • acute toxicity
  • skin corrosion/irritation
  • serious eye damage/eye
  • respiratory irritation or skin sensitization, germ cell mutagenicity, carcinogenicity, reproductive toxicity, specific target organ toxicity (single exposure specific target organ toxicity, repeated exposure aspiration hazard)

In addition, there are specific classification rules for chemical mixtures for each health hazard class.


What are the classes within the physical hazard group?

Criteria for classifying chemicals have been developed for the following physical hazard classes:

  • explosives
  • flammable gases
  • aerosols
  • oxidizing gases
  • gases under pressure
  • flammable liquids
  • flammable solids
  • self-reactive substances and mixtures
  • pyrophoric liquids
  • pyrophoric solids
  • self-heating substances and mixtures
  • substances and mixtures which, in contact with water, emit flammable gases
  • oxidizing liquids
  • oxidizing solids
  • organic peroxides
  • corrosive to metals


What are the classes within the environmental hazard group?

Criteria for classifying chemicals have been developed for the following environmental hazard class:

  • hazardous to the aquatic environment (acute and chronic)
  • hazardous to the ozone layer

In addition, there are specific classification rules for chemical mixtures for each environmental hazard class.


Safety Data Sheets (SDSs)

SDSs will use a 16-section format. There will be standardized information requirements for each section. The nine-section WHMIS format for MSDSs will no longer be acceptable. Another important change to note is that the product classification and some of the label information will probably be required on the SDS. The SDS updating requirements (every three years) will likely be required.


Supplier labels

Label requirements will also change, and will probably have a few new requirements. Labels will use new pictograms, as well as a signal word, "Warning" or "Danger."



How chemicals are classified will be affected:

  • Adopt all of the major GHS health and physical hazard classes including aspiration hazard and specific target organ toxicity-single exposure. Some sub-categories in GHS may not be adopted. It is unlikely that the environmental hazard classes will be adopted under WHMIS (but this does not exclude that it may be adopted by another government department).
  • Continue to include some hazards that are currently not in the GHS system, but are present in the current WHMIS system - such as biohazardous materials.Have more specific names for its hazard classes.Combine two WHMIS classes (teratogenicity/embryotoxicity and reproductive toxicity) into one new GHS hazard class called reproductive toxicity