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GHS stands for the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. GHS defines and classifies the hazards of chemical products, and communicates health and safety information on labels and safety data sheets). 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.
NOTE: This document discusses the global GHS, as developed by the United Nations. GHS is a 'non-binding' system of hazard communication. Only the elements of GHS that have been explicitly adopted by Canadian legislation are enforceable. See the OSH Answers documents on WHMIS 2015 for a summary of how GHS was implemented in Canada.
Currently many different countries have different systems for classification and labelling 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:
GHS 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.
The two major elements of GHS are:
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, 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 minimum information is prescribed.
There are three major hazard groups:
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 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.
Criteria for classifying chemicals have been developed for the following health hazard classes:
Criteria for classifying chemicals have been developed for the following physical hazard classes:
Criteria for classifying chemicals have been developed for the following environmental hazard classes:
The most current information on GHS classification, labels and SDS as well as other criteria is available in the 5th revised edition of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS)from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).
GHS is a dynamic system. The international GHS committee meets twice a year to work on developing potential new hazard classes as well as resolving specific issues, and updating the latest GHS publication. Check the above link for more information.
Countries and sectors (consumer, environmental, workplace, transportation) within a country will implement GHS at varying times depending on their local circumstances.
The Hazardous Products Regulations were published in Canada Gazette, Part II on February 11, 2015. Both the amended Hazardous Products Act and new regulations are currently in force. "In force" means that suppliers may begin to use and follow the new requirements for labels and SDSs for hazardous products sold, distributed, or imported into Canada.
Note that the provincial, federal, and territorial occupational health and safety WHMIS regulations will also require updating.
A multi-year transition plan has been announced. From now until May 31, 2017 suppliers (manufacturers and importers) can use WHMIS 1988 or WHMIS 2015 to classify and communicate the hazards of their products (suppliers must use one system or the other). Beginning June 1, 2017 to May 31, 2018, distributors and suppliers importing for their own use can continue to use WHMIS 1988 or WHMIS 2015.
GHS has been adopted into the new EU Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP) regulations (in force as of January 20, 2009). These regulations must be used for new products which are:
There is a two-year transition period for existing products labelled and packaged according to EU Directives (67/548/EEC and 1999/45/EC, both as amended).
Final Rule became effective May 26, 2012. Key dates in the US implementation include:
Adapted from: Hazard Communication Standard Final Rule, OSHA Fact Sheet (2012)
To find out more about the status of GHS implementation in other countries and their sectors please see the article produced by the UNECE.
Overall, the current roles and responsibilities for suppliers, employers and workers have not changed in WHMIS 2015.
Suppliers, Importers and Producers duties continue to include:
Employers must continue to:
Workers still must:
Again, please note: This document discusses the global GHS, as developed by the United Nations. GHS is a 'non-binding' system of hazard communication. Only the elements of GHS that have been explicitly adopted by Canadian legislation are enforceable. See the OSH Answers documents on WHMIS 2015 for a summary of how GHS was implemented in Canada.
Information from across Canada is available on the website WHMIS.org.
Also, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), in partnership with Health Canada, has developed free on-line training courses to help workers and workplaces prepare for WHMIS 2015.
WHMIS 2015 for Workers
Learn about WHMIS after its alignment with GHS, an internationally consistent approach to classifying chemicals and communicating hazard information through labels and safety data sheets (SDSs).
These courses are offered in English and French, and are free of charge.
Health Canada also offers an email news service to announce information about WHMIS.