What is GHS?

Chemical products and materials are sensitive in nature and can possess hazards that range from minor to significant. It’s for this reason that they need to be labeled, used and transported safely. Information about the effects of chemicals on the health of the people handling them should be disseminated in a clear manner. For this purpose, there is an international set of guidelines collectively known as the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals.

GHS communicates specific guidelines that are applicable in classifying hazardous products and materials. It also stresses the use of an identical format in printing information about chemicals on printed material worldwide. In addition to that, the GHS ensures that the content of the labels on chemical packaging is indicated clearly and in the same format all over the world. This is so as to avoid and eliminate any chances of illegibility or misunderstanding.What was the purpose of developing GHS?

Why Was GHS Developed?

Today, many countries around the word have unique methods of classifying and labeling chemical materials. Actually, you can find more than one system in some individual countries. Due to the differences, countries find it expensive and also time-consuming to regulate these products. It also becomes challenging for them to apply the law. In addition to that, companies in these countries find it challenging to sort the chemical products due to the different labeling. As such, there is a need for a uniform way of labeling and GHS is the answer.

Benefits of GHS

This new method of classifying and identifying chemicals has a number of benefits. One of them is that it promotes the efficient regulation of chemical materials. It also makes it easier to identify and regulate chemicals since they all have a uniform format of labeling. Trade is also easier. The GHS makes compliance among the handlers of chemical products much easier. This reduces the costs and time spent in organizing chemical products.

Hazard information is highly important. It can save a person’s life. GHS improves it and provides a consistent supply of this information to people who handle chemical products. These guidelines also promote safer transport, use, and handling of chemicals. Moreover, clear and uniform labeling makes it easier and faster to provide emergency response in cases of chemical accidents.

Characteristics of the GHS

The Globally Harmonized System is not a regulation or a law that must be followed by every country in the world. It is actually a system. Countries can choose to use it or not. No nation is obligated to use GHS. However, there are marked benefits in using this system and its benefits outweigh any logistical challenge that could come with adopting it in a country.

Nations have the freedom to pick and choose which parts of GHS they will adopt and use alongside their own regulations of chemical products. This method of adopting GHS is known as the building block approach. Every country is responsible for how they intend to adopt GHS. Currently, more than 65 different countries have already adopted this method of labeling chemical products.

The main changes that are brought about by adopting GHS include a new way of presenting information in labels and data sheets about safety. Moreover, GHS also adjusts the method of classifying chemicals in a country.

The Development of GHS

A group of experts in the communication of information about hazardous materials developed the GHS under the supervision of the United Nations.

The first edition of GHS guidelines was developed in December 2002, then published the following year in 2003. It has been reviewed and made better every two years after that. So far, there have a been a total of 6 revisions of the GHS guidelines. They occurred in the years 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015. Various adjustments have been made in these revisions. Some examples include new guidelines for labeling small packages, brand new hazards for aerosols that are not flammable as well as a brand new class of hazards for explosives that have been desensitized.

According to the GHS, there are 9 unique classes of hazards. These are derived from the United Nations Dangerous Goods System. These classes include:


These further have six categories of hazards under them.


These are organized into categories. Category 1 gases are those that are flammable and can ignite in the air at a temperature of 2 degrees Celsius. Category 2 refers to gases that are not flammable or toxic. Lastly, category 3 refers to gases that are highly toxic.

Flammable Liquids

These are fluids which have a maximum flash point of 93 degrees Celsius. They are further divided into four unique categories according to their flash and boiling points. Under flammable liquids, there is a unique category known as pyrophoric fluids. These can ignite after five minutes of contact with the air.

Flammable Solids

These are solids which are flammable quite readily if exposed to friction. They come in the form of powders, grains or pasty materials. If they come into contact with a flame, they will ignite quickly and spread the flame readily. Under this class of hazards, there are sub-categories. They include polymerizing materials and substances that are self-reactive.

Oxidizing Materials and Peroxides of an Organic Nature

These are two categories under the same hazard class. They are further distinguished into seven different types. These are assigned letters A to G.

Toxic and Infectious Materials

These substances are known to be toxic to humans and can present various health hazards.

Substances that are Radioactive

These materials are generally unstable and produce dangerous types of radiation.

Materials that can Corrode Metal

These substances have the ability to damage and even destroy metal.

Miscellaneous Substances

These are those that are generally hazardous to the environment.


The Globally Harmonized System makes it much easier to handle chemical products. A standard method of labeling these sensitive fluids, gases and solids is essential. Thanks to the GHS, trade, regulation and worker safety have improved significantly across the globe. It is a beneficial initiative that should continue well into the future. Many incidents, injuries and major catastrophes have been averted by using the GHS. Despite not being a compulsory law, nations are encouraged to adopt GHS for their own good.