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The Globally Harmonized System (GHS) is a set of standards implemented by the UN focused on the classification and labeling of chemicals and other hazardous materials. Since 2012, OSHA has updated the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) to align with the GHS standards. This system is meant to standardize and harmonize, ultimately keeping workers safe. The following are four specific requirements for a compliant GHS label:

  1. Harmonized Signal Word: Did you know there are only two approved signal words in the GHS system? They are “DANGER” and “WARNING”. A label with “DANGER” printed on it is a more severe hazard and should be placed on substances that can cause death, long-term problems, or poses an immediate serious risk. A “WARNING” label is less severe than the previous word but is still dangerous and should be treated as such. For example, chemicals that may require prolonged exposure to cause health issue, should use the “WARNING” signal word. It is important to note there should only be one signal word used per label, and no signal word should be used if no serious risk is posed.
  1. GHS Pictogram: There are nine hazard pictograms approved by GHS, eight of which are also required by OSHA. The following pictograms are used for GHS labeling strategies.
    1. Health Hazard: Used for any chemicals that can cause cancer, mutations, reproductive issues, developmental issues, etc.
    2. Flame: Used on any flammable solids, liquids, and gasses. If the substance is liable to ignite, the flame pictogram should be used.
    3. Exclamation Mark: This pictogram should be used on chemicals or materials that can cause damage, of any kind, to skin or eyes. Substances that can cause dizziness or similar reactions should be labeled with an exclamation mark as well.
    4. Gas Cylinder: Used for any gasses that are contained under pressure.
    5. Corrosion: Any chemical that can cause skin burns, or any chemical that may damage metal, should be labeled with the corrosion pictogram.
    6. Exploding Bomb: Used for any substance or mixture that can cause an explosion.
    7. Flame over Circle: This pictogram should be used on any type of oxidizer.
    8. Environment: Any chemical that can harm fish, water-based animals, or plants should be properly labeled so workers know it must be properly disposed of.
    9. Skull & Crossbones: Any poison, deadly or not, should have this pictogram.
  1. Hazard Statement: The third requirement in the GHS system, a hazard statement should include a designated code and a specific statement corresponding to the associated hazards. Not only will labels be OSHA compliant, but all workers handling or working around the hazardous materials are alerted of possible risks. These statements should describe the nature and degree of the hazard. Finally, hazard statements have specific classification categories that correspond with the level and type of risk.
  1. Precautionary Statement: The final element of a compliant GHS label is the precautionary statement. Like the hazard statement, the GHS system has specific categories and codes associated with them. These statements have types of precautionary instructions workers should take to avoid the chemical or substance. This should provide whoever is reading the label with information about what steps to take in the event the chemical is exposed, or what steps can be taken to minimize exposure.

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