Effective hazard communication is essential for ensuring workplace safety, particularly when dealing with hazardous chemicals. The Globally Harmonized System (GHS) is an internationally recognized standard that provides a consistent approach to classifying, labeling, and communicating information about chemical hazards. By understanding and implementing GHS standards, employers can help protect employees from the risks associated with hazardous chemicals, reduce the likelihood of accidents, and comply with regulatory requirements. In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss the fundamentals of hazard communication, the key components of GHS, and practical strategies for implementing GHS standards in the workplace.

The Importance of Hazard Communication

Why Hazard Communication Matters

Hazard communication is a critical aspect of workplace safety, particularly for businesses that handle, store, or use hazardous chemicals. Effective hazard communication can:

  • Protect employees from chemical hazards by providing information about the risks and appropriate precautions
  • Minimize the potential for chemical-related accidents, injuries, and illnesses
  • Facilitate emergency response efforts by providing critical information to first responders
  • Ensure compliance with local, national, and international regulations related to chemical safety

Hazard Communication Regulatory Requirements

In many countries, including the United States, hazard communication is regulated by government agencies responsible for occupational safety and health. These agencies typically require employers to:

  • Develop and maintain a written hazard communication program
  • Provide employee training on hazard communication and chemical safety
  • Ensure that hazardous chemicals are properly labeled and accompanied by safety data sheets (SDSs)
  • Communicate information about chemical hazards and protective measures to employees

The Globally Harmonized System (GHS)

Overview of GHS

The Globally Harmonized System (GHS) is an international standard developed by the United Nations to provide a consistent approach to the classification, labeling, and communication of chemical hazards. GHS aims to:

  • Facilitate international trade by harmonizing chemical safety regulations and requirements
  • Enhance the protection of human health and the environment by providing clear, consistent information on chemical hazards
  • Simplify the process of updating and maintaining chemical safety information for employers and regulatory agencies

GHS Classification

GHS provides criteria for the classification of hazardous chemicals based on their physical, health, and environmental hazards. These criteria are organized into hazard classes (e.g., flammable liquids, carcinogenicity) and categories (e.g., category 1, category 2) that indicate the severity of the hazard.

GHS Labeling

Under GHS, hazardous chemicals must be labeled with standardized elements, including:

  • Product identifier: The chemical name or identification number
  • Signal word: A word (either "Danger" or "Warning") that indicates the relative severity of the hazard
  • Hazard statements: Descriptions of the nature and severity of the chemical's hazards
  • Precautionary statements: Recommendations for the safe handling, storage, and disposal of the chemical, as well as emergency response and first aid information
  • Pictograms: Symbols enclosed in a red diamond that visually represent the chemical's hazards
  • Supplier information: The name, address, and contact information of the chemical's manufacturer or distributor

Safety Data Sheets (SDSs)

Safety data sheets (SDSs) are an essential component of GHS, providing detailed information about a hazardous chemical's properties, hazards, and recommended safety measures. SDSs must follow a standardized 16-section format:

  1. Identification
  2. Hazard(s) identification
  3. Composition/information on ingredients
  4. First-aid measures
  5. Fire-fighting measures
  6. Accidental release measures
  7. Handling and storage
  8. Exposure controls/personal protection
  9. Physical and chemical properties
  10. Stability and reactivity
  11. Toxicological information
  12. Ecological information
  13. Disposal considerations
  14. Transport information
  15. Regulatory information
  16. Other information

Implementing GHS Standards in the Workplace

Develop a Written Hazard Communication Program

To comply with GHS standards and regulatory requirements, employers must develop a written hazard communication program that outlines their procedures for managing hazardous chemicals. This program should include:

  • An inventory of all hazardous chemicals in the workplace
  • Procedures for obtaining and maintaining SDSs for each chemical
  • Processes for ensuring that chemical containers are properly labeled
  • Employee training requirements and procedures
  • Methods for communicating information about chemical hazards and protective measures to employees

Train Employees on Hazard Communication and GHS

Provide comprehensive training for employees who handle, store, or use hazardous chemicals, covering topics such as:

  • The purpose and requirements of GHS
  • How to read and understand GHS labels and SDSs
  • Safe handling, storage, and disposal practices for hazardous chemicals
  • The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other safety measures
  • Emergency response procedures for chemical spills, fires, or exposures

Ensure that employees receive refresher training periodically or as needed based on changes in the workplace or updates to GHS standards.

Ensure Proper Labeling of Chemical Containers

Verify that all hazardous chemical containers in your workplace are labeled with the required GHS elements, including product identifiers, signal words, hazard statements, precautionary statements, pictograms, and supplier information. If you receive chemicals with non-GHS-compliant labels, work with the manufacturer or distributor to obtain the necessary information, or consult the SDS to create compliant labels.

Maintain and Update SDSs

Keep a current, accessible collection of SDSs for all hazardous chemicals in your workplace. Ensure that employees know where to find SDSs and how to use them in the event of an emergency or when seeking information about chemical hazards and safety measures. Regularly review and update your SDS collection to account for changes in chemical inventories, product formulations, or GHS requirements.

Communicate Hazard Information to Employees

Post GHS-compliant hazard communication materials, such as posters, signs, and placards, in prominent locations throughout your workplace. Hold regular safety meetings to discuss chemical hazards, safe work practices, and any updates to your hazard communication program.


Understanding and implementing GHS standards is vital for ensuring workplace safety, protecting employees from chemical hazards, and complying with regulatory requirements. By developing a comprehensive hazard communication program, training employees on GHS, and maintaining accurate labeling and SDSs, employers can promote a safer work environment and reduce the risk of chemical-related accidents and injuries. Remember, hazard communication is an ongoing process that requires regular updates, training, and communication to stay current with GHS standards and workplace changes. By investing in effective hazard communication, businesses can demonstrate their commitment to employee safety and contribute to a healthier, more secure work environment.