Safety is one of the most important aspects within the industrial sector. From manufacturing facilities to oil refineries, workers are exposed to various types of chemicals and materials on a daily basis which may pose a hazard if not handled properly.
The GHS label system has created a standardized form of identification to help ensure proper precautions and handling techniques are observed when working with hazardous substances.
What is GHS?
GHS stands for The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. This is a standardized system for labeling and identifying hazardous chemicals and materials.
The GHS standard is a global initiative, adopted by the United Nations (UN) following a multi-year process of discussion and development by experts in the hazcom space. This process involved a large number of international groups and organizations, all with the goal of creating a worldwide standard.
Standardization reduces mistakes, especially when it comes to international transport of hazardous items. The guidelines distinguish not only the risk to workers, but the environment as well.
The final system incorporates elements form various safety methodologies and standards from across the globe. It effectively set an international standard for the communication of information regarding hazardous chemicals.
How did this impact national safety programs? In the US, workplace safety regulation is overseen by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). With the introduction of GHS, OSHA aligned their former Hazard Communication Standard with these global guidelines.
What Information is on a GHS Label?
There are two main components to the GHS standard: GHS labels, and Safety Data Sheets (SDS).
GHS labels contain a wealth of information, often more than comparable safety identification markers.
All of these elements are standardized. This allows for substances to be transported internationally with greater east, and minimize exposure to workers.
In addition, workers moving from plant to plant will be accustomed to the same warnings.
One of the distinct elements of the label is a GHS pictogram. This design includes symbols for the hazard. For example, a depiction of a fire for a flammable substance.
As per OSHA guidelines, pictograms must be a black symbol on white background. This is bordered by a red square set at a point. The red border helps draw attention to the warning symbols.
Every GHS label contains what are referred to as signal words to convey the severity for a given hazard. The two words used are “warning” and “danger”.
A warning is considered a less severe hazard, while the term danger is used to indicate the highest level.
Another important piece of data, hazard statements provide a quick source of information. This brief and simple explanation outlines the hazardous nature of the chemical or material.
In addition, this can serve as an easy to understand description for those new to a given substance.
What happens if someone comes into contact with the chemical? This is detailed in the precautionary statements section. More in-depth details can be found on the accompanying safety data sheet (SDS).
This is incredibly useful in the event of a spill or accident, especially if someone is not familiar with the hazardous substance or material they have been exposed to. Improper treatment of chemical spills in a panic can lead to an even worse incident.
The precautionary statements typically includes information on how to dispose of chemicals as well.
At the bottom of the label design, there is the option for manufacturer information.
This information can include:
- Company Name
- Phone Number
- Website URL
This makes reordering chemicals easier for plants, as well as gives quick access to more information on a given substance if necessary. The chemical manufacturer info will also be easily accessible in the event of an issue or spill as well. This can help figure out what went wrong, and how it can be prevented in the future.
Safety Data Sheets (SDS)
Safety data sheets are an important element in maintaining GHS best practices. While these are not labels per se, they are considered a fundamental portion of GHS compliance.
Safety data sheets provide more detailed information about specific substances and their accompanying risks.
These highly useful sheets also often contain critical first aid information, or what to do if a chemical is spilled or leaks. Not only are the potential health risks for human contact or ingestion included, but also potential environmental risks as well.
Workers for an organization should never handle substances which they are not specifically educated on. All it takes is a quick read through before a task, but it can mean the difference between an accident and a safe environment.
Any industry which utilizes hazardous materials must be compliant with the standard. This means there is an incredibly wide range of industries impacted by these guidelines.
Nearly every industrial type organization is required to identify hazards with GHS labels. Identification marking in general is crucial in accident prevention and overall workplace safety.
Some industries which adhere to this set of regulations include:
- Chemical Plants
- Oil & Gas
- Many More
Types of GHS Labels
The most common type of GHS label is a poly/vinyl based decal. These labels are a versatile marking solution used in many industrial environments.
The flexible nature of the material means the decals can fit on both flat and non-flat surfaces. They are typically attached via strong adhesive backing. This simple peel and stick application provides excellent ease of use, and saves significant time.
While custom labels are a great solution, they are not the most durable option. They will only last for a few years at most in average industrial conditions. Extreme environments will lead to a shorter lifespan.
For example, heavy exposure to weather or wear will cause the ink to fade and wear away.
Allowing the GHS compliant labels to wear down to the point of being illegible is a major concern. Not only would this violate regulations but also could provide an immense safety risk.
Laminates and thicker material options such as Lexan can help negate some of the durability shortcomings, but it is still not considered a permanent solution.
Signs and placards can also be marked with GHS relevant information. Signs in an industrial environment are often made from a metal substrate.
Metal is a more durable substrate, better suited for the rough environment. Plastic based placards are sometimes utilized depending on the environment.
Safety is a major concern for industrial work environments. This is especially true for environments in which workers are exposed to hazardous chemicals.
By creating a standardized form of identification, the GHS label system has helped foster safer work conditions across the globe.