Globally Harmonized System (GHS)

What is GHS?

GHS (Globally Harmonized System) is an internationally agreed upon system, created by the United Nations. It is designed to replace the various classification and labelling standards used in different countries by using consistent criteria for classification and labelling on a global level.

Globally Harmonized System (GHS)

The goal of GHS is to apply the same set of rules for classifying hazards, and the same format and content for labels and safety data sheets (SDS). The SDS and label must be delivered to the end user in the country’s national language.

The U.S. officially adopted the GHS on March 26, 2012. OSHA’s adoption is actually a revision of the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) to align with the GHS. OSHA calls this revision, HazCom 2012.

Why was GHS developed?

The production and use of chemicals is fundamental to all economies. Global chemical sales total more than $1.7 trillion annually. In the U.S., chemical sales exceed $450 billion and exports total more than $80 billion per year.

Chemicals directly or indirectly affect our lives and are essential to our food, health, and lifestyle. The widespread use of chemicals has resulted in the development of sector-specific regulations such as transport, production, workplace, agriculture, trade, and consumer products.

While the existing laws and regulations are similar, they are different enough to require multiple labels for the same product both within the U.S. and in international trade. Multiple safety data sheets are required for the same product in international trade. Several U.S. regulatory agencies and various countries have different requirements for hazard definitions as well as information included on labels and material safety data sheets.

Big Changes

Revision of the Hazard Communication Standard to align with GHS affects over 40 million workers in 5 million workplaces. Revisions to OSHA’s HCS to align with GHS result in two major changes.

First, unlike HCS, which stops at simply classifying hazards, GHS hazard classes are subdivided into “hazard categories” so that chemical manufacturers must identify both the hazardous effects of their chemicals as well as their degrees of severity.

The second key area of change under GHS is to labels and safety data sheets.

Hazard Classification

The GHS classification system is a complex system with data obtained from tests, literature, and practical experience. The main elements of the hazard classification criteria are summarized below:

  • Physical
  • Health
  • Environmental (not mandatory in the USA)
  • Hazards Not Otherwise Classified (USA only)
  1. Each group is broken down into hazard classes and assigned pictograms.


Health Hazard
Health Hazard
Exclamation Mark
Exclamation Mark
  • Carcinogen
  • Mutagenicity
  • Reproductive Toxicity
  • Respiratory Sensitizer
  • Target Organ Toxicity
  • Aspiration Toxicity
  • Flammables
  • Pyrophorics
  • Self-Heating
  • Emits Flammable Gas
  • Self-Reactives
  • Organic Peroxides
  • Irritant (skin and eye)
  • Skin Sensitizer
  • Acute Toxicity (harmful)
  • Narcotic Effects
  • Respiratory Tract Irritant
  • Hazardous to Ozone Layer
    (Non Mandatory)
Gas Cylinder
Gas Cylinder
Exploding Bomb
Exploding Bomb
  • Gases under Pressure
  • Skin Corrosion / Burns
  • Eye Damage
  • Corrosive to Metals
  • Explosives
  • Self-Reactives
  • Organic Peroxides
Flame over Circle
Flame over Circle
Skull and Crossbones
Skull and Crossbones
  • Oxidizers
  • Aquatic Toxicity
  • Acute Toxicity (fatal or toxic)


  1. Categories are determined by the LD (Lethal Dose) or LC (Lethal Concentration) of the chemical and range from Category 1 (most hazardous) or Category 5 (least hazardous).

GHS Safety Data Sheets (SDS)

Under GHS alignment, safety data sheets remain the backbone of compliance. They do, however, get a new name and formatting change. GHS drops the M from MSDS and calls them SDSs. More importantly, SDSs have a standardized 16 section format with a required ordering of sections. It is essentially the ANSI Standard for MSDSs with a few adjustments.

  1. Identification of the Substance
  2. Hazards Identification
  3. Composition / Ingredients
  4. First-Aid Measures
  5. Fire-Fighting Measures
  6. Accidental Release Measures
  7. Handling and Storage
  8. Exposure Controls / Personal Protection
  1. Physical and Chemical Properties
  2. Stability and Reactivity
  3. Toxicological Information
  4. Ecological Information
  5. Disposal Considerations
  6. Transport Information
  7. Regulatory Information
  8. Other Information (dates/revisions)
Safety Data Sheets

GHS Label Elements

GHS safety labels have six standardized elements:

  • Product Identifier – Must match product identifier on safety data sheet
  • Manufacturer Contact Information – Including name, phone number, and address
  • Hazard Pictograms – Convey health, physical, and environmental hazard information assigned to a GHS hazard class and category
  • Signal Word – Either DANGER or WARNING are used to emphasize hazards and indicate the relative level of severity of the hazard, assigned to a GHS hazard class and category
  • Hazard Statements – Standardized sentences that describes the level of the hazards
  • Precautionary Statements – Steps employees can take to protect themselves

Other label requirements include:

  • Must be labeled in the official language where the product is being placed on the market.
  • Additional information may be required on the label based on local regulations of end user’s country.

It is important to note that the GHS pictograms do not replace the diamond shaped labels that the US Department of Transportation (DOT) requires for transport. These labels must be on the external part of a shipped container and must meet DOT requirements set forth in 49 CFR 172, Subpart E.

What does this mean?

Although our products are not changing our SDS and Labels will have an entirely new look to comply with GHS.

Dymax Label

For more information or questions please contact us directly at or call 860-482-1010.