Environmental Health & Safety

GHS (Global Harmonization System)

The Basics

GHS, what is it?

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The GHS (Global Harmonization System) was created and designed to replace all the diverse classification systems with one universal standard, which all countries could follow.  The system provides the infrastructure for participating countries to implement a hazard classification and communication system.

In the long term, the GHS is expected to improve knowledge of the dangers associated with hazardous chemicals such as chronic health hazards like carcinogens, mutagens and reproductive toxins. It will also be accompanied by a standardized labeling system, utilizing visual aids such as pictograms to indicate other dangers such as ignitability, reactivity and physical/health hazards. 

To sum it all up, the goal of GHS and Hazcom (Hazard Communication) is to ensure that employers, employees and the public are provided with adequate, practical, reliable and comprehensive information of the hazards of chemicals, so they can take effective preventative, and protective measures for their health and safety. All existing hazard communication systems will need to be changed in order to comply to the GHS.

What are Safety Data Sheets?

GHS SDS Sample
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Safety Data Sheets (SDS) will replace MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) and will follow a standardized format in which pertaining information is provided.  SDS's should be provided by the manufacturer along with the chemical purchased. A typical SDS will provide essential information which outlines the dangers involved in handling, transporting, consuming, combining, storing and disposing a chemical/product.  An SDS will also provide vital first aid information to first responders and physicians, along with emergency contact numbers.  Current Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) follow no specific format, the type of information and order it's in, can vary even for the same chemical sold by different manufacturers. 

What are Pictograms?


Pictograms are small illustrations, specific to a hazard, enclosed in a red bordered diamond.  Current means of labeling will also be changed and modified by the GHS.  Pictograms will appear on all labels and SDS's. The current labeling system varies with different pictures, symbols and colors.  The Goal of the GHS is to be transparent and standardized. This will affect all aspects of shipping, handling, storage and will be enforced by agencies such as the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), DOT (Department of Transportation), IATA (International Air Transport Association) a division of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).


The GHS will have a direct affect on current labeling systems and requirements.  Currently, we label our pipes at Amherst College with a similar label to the example on the right.  The GHS takes the current pipe markers a step further with pictograms and a written warning on the dangers associated with that chemical.  Chemicals will have to be labeled differently than before.  The way things are labeled will have a dramatic affect on current Hazcom standards.

The GHS Label on chemical containers such as bottles, pails, boxes and barrels (drums) will look and contain much of the information outlined in "General Information on GHS Label" shown below.  Click on the image to view or download the PDF.  All labeling under the new GHS will require labels to incorporate the appropriate pictograms.

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What Aspect of work, Agencies and regulations will be affected by the GHS?

Transportation - for transport, it is expected that application of the GHS will be similar to application of current transport requirements.

  • GHS physical, acute and environmental standards are expected to be adopted in the transport sector.
  • Containers of dangerous goods will have pictograms that address acute toxicity, physical and environmental hazards.
  • GHS hazard communication elements such as signal words, hazard statements and SDS are not expected to be adopted in the transport sector.

Workplace - in the workplace, it is expected that most of the GHS elements will be adopted, including;

  • GHS physical and health hazard criteria, as appropriate;
  • Labels that have harmonized core information under the GHS (signal words, hazard statements and symbols, etc.)
  • Safety Data Sheets (SDS);
  • Employee training to help ensure effective communication is also anticipated

Consumer - for the consumer sector, it is expected that labels will be the primary focus of the GHS application.

  • The appropriate GHS hazard criteria are expected to be adopted;
  • These labels will include the core elements of the GHS (signal works, hazard statements and symbols, etc).

Pesticides - for pesticides, it is expected the GHS will be adopted.

  • The appropriate GHS hazard criteria are expected to be adopted;
  • Pesticide labels will include the core elements of the GHS (signal words, hazard statements and symbols, etc).
  • Also see the Amherst College IPM (Integrated Pest Management)

How about products that are mixtures, what's the approach to classifying them?

As you many know already, many products sold can contain more than one hazardous ingredient.  Where impurities, additives or individual constituents of a substance  or mixuture have been indentified and are themselves classified, they should be taken into account during classification if they exceed the cutoff value/concentration limit for a given hazard class. Follow the approach outlined in the table below.

What exactly are Bridging Principals?

Bridging principles are an important concept in the GHS for classifying untested mixtures.  When a mixture has not been tested, but there are sufficient data on the components and similar tested mixtures, these data can be used in accordance with the following bridging principals.

  1. Dilution: If a mixture is diluted with a diluent that has an equivalent or lower toxicity, then the hazards of the new mixture are assumed to be equivalent to the original.
  2. Batching: If a batch of a complex substance is produced under a controlled process, then the hazards of the new batch are assumed to be equivalent to the previous batches.
  3. Concentration of Highly Toxic Mixtures: If a mixture is severely hazardous, then a concentrated mixture i also assumed to be severely hazardous.
  4. Interpolation within Once Toxic Category: Mixtures having component concentrations within a range where the hazards are known and assumed to have those known hazards.
  5. Substantially Similar Mixtures: Slight changes in the concentrations of components are not expected to change the hazards of a mixture and substitutions involving toxicological similar components are not expected to change the hazards of the mixture.
  6. Aerosols: An aerosol form of a mixure is assumed to have the same hazards as the tested, non-aerosolized form of the mixture unless the propellant affects the hazards upon spraying.

How will Amherst College Benefit from the GHS?

  • Safer work environment
  • More efficient and cost reduction for Hazard Communication
  • Better information and easier to read
  • Expands and binds together training programs based on Federal regulations such as Hazcom, RCRA, TSCA, DOT, and IATA because of changes across the board.