Since 2012, OSHA has adopted the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of classifying and labeling hazardous chemicals for workplace and environmental safety. OSHA has slowly incorporated GHS standards into its own safety standards, gradually switching U.S. ratings and procedures over to this globally recognized protocol.

One area that has brought about some confusion is the current changes in labeling requirements, as both SDS and safety stickers have taken on a new look. Companies printing or generating stickers from SDS software must recognize and understand the new requirements and incorporate them into their safety alerting system if not already done.

GHS Safety Labeling Requirements

According to OSHA and the GHS, all hazardous chemicals must be labeled in the workplace using a standardized sticker. The new label used by the Global Harmonized System looks different than the old one used by OSHA, as it now has six elements that must be identified rather than four:

  1. Standardized Signal Word - A signaling announcement that indicates the severity of the hazard, such as “danger” for highly dangerous substances or “warning” for less severe hazards. The signal word is the first word at the very top of the sticker.

  2. Product Name - The name or description of the product inside the container.

  3. Standardized Symbols/Pictograms - Standardized, globally recognized symbols depicting hazard warnings are now different than what has been used by OSHA in the past. GHS incorporates nine specific warning pictograms to be used on SDS sheets and labels generated by SDS software.

  4. Hazard Description - A brief listing of information about the chemical, its nature, and how the substance should be handled. These statements should be listed according to coded standard hazard statements. More detailed information can be found on the relating SDS.

  5. Precautionary Measures - A brief description of what to do in case of exposure as well as any first aid measure that should be taken.

  6. Manufacturer Contact Information - The name, address, and phone number of the chemical manufacturer or supplier as well as any other unique product identifying numbers. This information is listed on the bottom of the sticker for easy reference.

Differences in Hazard Rating Systems

Besides the significant difference in the new hazard label, employers must also know the difference in hazard ratings to be used with these labels. Prior to conforming to the newer standards, OSHA rated hazards from 0 to 4, with 0 representing a minimal hazard and 4 representing a severe hazard. The GHS system reverses this and rates from 1 to 5, with 1 meaning a severe hazard and 5 signifying a minimal danger.

This has proven to be particularly confusing for employees who are accustomed to and have been using the OSHA standard until very recently. Employers must continually educate employees on this new SDS rating system to keep warning labels accurate and be in compliance with updated OSHA standards.

The labels on hazardous chemicals usually present the first opportunity for anyone using the substance to recognize danger and what should be done to ensure proper use and personal protection. Although the GHS change was done to make the recognition of these chemicals easier on a global scale, it will definitely require some acclimation. Most importantly, companies that generate safety labels using SDS software must understand the new labeling requirements and educate staff about the new standards.

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