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GHS Label (Globally Harmonized System Label)

This article on GHS Label aims to give an overview/basic background to help you understand how the system works. At the end of this overview, you will be provided with the GHS guide by OSHA (PDF) which will contain in details, everything you need to be able to implement the GHS system.

NOTE: You may not understand the guide if you do not read this overview.

What is GHS Label

GHS Label stands for Globally Harmonized System label. This is a system of classification and labelling of chemicals, which is an internationally agreed-upon standard managed by the United Nations and was set up to replace the assortment of hazardous material classification and labelling schemes previously used around the world.

Core elements of the GHS include:

  • Standardized hazard testing criteria
  • Universal warning pictograms, and
  • Harmonized safety data sheets which provide users of dangerous goods with a host of information.

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.

Purpose Of The GHS Label

The GHS is not a regulation; rather it is a framework or guidance for classifying and labeling hazardous chemicals. The purpose of classification under the GHS is to provide harmonized information to users of chemicals with the goal of enhancing protection of human health and the environment.

Benefits Of The GHS


  • Enhance the protection of human health and the environment by providing an internationally understood system.
  • Provide a recognized framework to develop regulations for those countries without existing systems.
  • Facilitate international trade in chemicals whose hazards have been identified on an international basis.
  • Reduce the need for testing and evaluation against multiple classification systems.

Benefits to companies include:

  • A safer work environment and improved relations with employees.
  • An increase in efficiency and reduced costs from compliance with hazard communication regulations.
  • Application of expert systems resulting in maximizing expert resources and minimizing labor and costs.
  • Facilitation of electronic transmission systems with international scope.
  • Expanded use of training programs on health and safety.
  • Reduced costs due to fewer accidents and illnesses.
  • Improved corporate image and credibility.

Benefits to workers and members of the public include:

  • Improved safety for workers and others through consistent and simplified communications on chemical hazards and practices to follow for safe handling and use.
  • Greater awareness of hazards, resulting in safer use of chemicals in the workplace and in the home.


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GHS Terms You Need To Understand

  • SDS – Safety Data Sheet. SDS is the term used by GHS for Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).
  • Hazard group – While not given a formal definition, GHS divides hazards into three major groups – health, physical and environmental.
  • Class – Class is the term used to describe the different types of hazards. For example, Gases under Pressure is an example of a class in the physical hazards group.
  • Category – Category is the name used to describe the sub-sections of classes. For example, Self-Reactive Chemicals have 7 categories. Each category has rules or criteria to determine what chemicals are assigned to that category. Categories are assigned numbers (or letters) with category 1 (or A) being the most hazardous.
  • Hazard Statement – For each category of a class, a standardized statement is used to describe the hazard. For example, the hazard statement for chemicals which meet the criteria for the class Self-heating substances and mixtures, Category 1 is Self-heating; may catch fire. This hazard statement would appear both on the label and on the SDS.
  • Precautionary Statement – These statements are standardized phrases that describe the recommended steps to be taken to minimize or prevent adverse effects from exposure to or resulting from improper handling or storage of a hazardous product.
  • Signal word – There are two signal words used by the GHS – Danger and Warning. These signal words are used to communicate the level of hazard on both the label and the SDS. The appropriate signal word to use is set out by the classification system. For example, the signal word for Self-heating substances and mixtures, Category 1 is Danger while Warning is used for the less serious Category 2. There are categories where no signal word is used.
  • Pictogram – Pictogram refers to the GHS symbol on the label and SDS. Not all categories have a symbol associated with them.


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GHS Label Hazard Grouping And Building Block

The GHS system have three major hazard groups:

  • Physical hazards: Explosives, Flammable gases, Aerosols, Oxidizing gases, Gases under pressure, Flammable liquids, Flammable solids, etc.
  • Health hazards: Acute toxicity, Skin corrosion/irritation, Serious eye damage/eye irritation, Respiratory or skin sensitization, Germ cell mutagenicity, Carcinogenicity, Reproductive toxicity, etc.
  • Environmental hazards: Acute aquatic toxicity, chronic aquatic toxicity.

Within each of these hazard groups there are classes and categories. Each of these parts is called a building block.

Click to see OSHA GHS guide (PDF)

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