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Voice of Experience: The Globally Harmonized System is Here

Creating one global standard to classify and label hazardous chemicals has been a topic of international negotiations since the process began in Brazil in 1992. Now, the long-awaited and much-discussed Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) is beginning to appear in the American workplace. December 1, 2013, was the deadline for the initial required employee training about the changes the GHS will bring to OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), which is used to ensure chemical safety in the workplace. The GHS will affect current HCS labeling requirements with the addition of new signal words, hazard and precautionary statements, and pictograms. One of the most noticeable changes is that material safety data sheets, or MSDS, will now be referred to as safety data sheets, or SDS.

Why are these changes needed? What is to be gained from them? These are the most common questions about the GHS from industry workers. The current HCS, written in 1983, is a right-to-know law – that is, workers have the right to know what kind of chemicals they are handling. Simply put, the GHS will allow workers to even better understand these chemicals and their hazards. Since the HCS was written, chemical manufacturers have had to evaluate all chemicals, and the information from those evaluations was then communicated to vendors through material safety data sheets. The GHS now requires the availability of that information in the new 16-section safety data sheets that will advise workers of the health and environmental effects of hazardous chemicals. The new GHS requirements will impact approximately 43 million workers in 5 million U.S. workplaces.

Safety Data Sheet and Label Contents
Per the GHS, signal words must be on labels and safety data sheets. “Danger” and “Warning” are the only words that will be used to identify the threat level, and there will only be one signal word per label indicating the severity of the threat. Precautionary statements shall also be included on labels and safety data sheets. These statements cover four areas: prevention, response in cases of accidental spillage or exposure, storage and disposal. One example of a precautionary statement is the effects of unprotected, prolonged exposure.

The old material safety data sheets were not organized nor were they required to be formatted in a specific way – they merely had to include the required safety information. The new safety data sheets, revised in 2012 to create a more user-friendly format, are divided into 16 organized sections. Because each section is found in the same place on every sheet, workers can quickly find the information they need to know.

Sections 1 through 8 of a safety data sheet contain general safety information, including the following:
• Section 1 lists the product name, manufacturer or distributor, phone number, emergency contact information and restricted uses.
• Section 2 includes hazards identification and label elements.
• Section 3 covers composition of chemicals, chemical ingredients and trade secrets.
• Section 4 addresses first aid measures for exposures, including acute or delayed treatments.
• Section 5 provides information about firefighting, such as proper and improper extinguishing media, specific chemical hazards and precautions.
• Section 6 deals with accidental release, protective equipment, and proper containment and cleanup procedures.
• Section 7 covers precautions for safe handling and conditions for safe storage, including any incompatibilities.
• Section 8 addresses exposure controls and personal protection, such as control parameters, engineering controls and personal protective equipment.

Sections 9 through 11 contain information related to physical and chemical properties, stability and reactivity, and toxicological information. Section 12 covers ecological data including ecotoxicity. In Section 13, workers can find information about waste residue and how to safety handle it, as well as disposal methods. Section 14 deals with transportation of products via air, sea, rail and road, while Section 15 provides information about safety, health and environmental regulations specific to the product. Finally, Section 16 covers other important information, such as preparation and revision of the safety data sheet. Note: Sections 12 through 15 are regulated, but are not required by OSHA. OSHA will not enforce these measures because they handle matters covered by other agencies.

As previously mentioned, all safety data sheet information is available in the older material safety data sheets, but the information is not organized in the same manner. The specific hazard communication requirements shall be adhered to by the employer for all employees by the end of the transition period on June 1, 2016. New labeling and safety data sheets will begin appearing in the near future, but both methods are permissible during the transition period. Any questions should be directed to your company’s environmental, health and safety specialist.

About the Author: Danny Raines, CUSP, safety consultant, distribution and transmission, retired from Georgia Power after 40 years of service and opened Raines Utility Safety Solutions LLC, providing compliance training, risk assessments and safety observation programs. He is also an affiliate instructor at Georgia Tech Research Center OSHA Outreach in Atlanta. For more information, visit


Safety Management

Danny Raines, CUSP

Danny Raines, CUSP, is an author, an OSHA-authorized trainer, and a transmission and distribution safety consultant who retired from Georgia Power after 40 years of service and now operates Raines Utility Safety Solutions LLC.