Some Aspects of GHS Safety Data Sheets

Nations across the world are adopting the UN recommended Globally Harmonized System of classification and labeling of chemicals with the purpose of achieving several objectives.

One objective is a protection of the health of workers involved in the chain of processing, storage, handling and transportation of chemicals. Another is to safeguard the environment. A unified system of classification will facilitate trade across borders and properly identify chemicals and their hazard levels. Some countries did not have in place a system of classification while others that did had various methods of classification and categorization that led to confusion and risky situations. Development of the GHS safety data sheets was based on an extensive study that sought to address disparities and bring about uniformity while ensuring that level of protection did not reduce. The classification process takes into consideration the intrinsically hazardous properties of single chemicals and their formulation as well as reactivity with air, water and other chemicals besides impact when released into the environment. As such the GHS SDS were developed in a structured way with each section easily referred to by those involved in the chain such as processing, storage, and transportation in addition to end users. Over the years GHS underwent various revisions and countries accepted one or the other besides introducing their own norms. One of the quirks of the SDS is that disclosure of hazard must be made in full but without compromising confidential information of proprietary formulations. A key feature is that of training employees in the use of SDS and appropriate procedures in relation to the chemicals they handle and this training included interpretation of the safety data sheets and the safety labels.

Then there are further recommendations on implementation. For instance, an importer-distributor may simply receive sealed containers of chemicals with GHS labels. It is their duty to ensure that the labels remain intact. If a manufacturer receives a sealed container and it is subsequently opened, he has to maintain the data sheet and make it readily available to employees handling the chemicals and further label secondary containers. As such the method of application of hazard communication part, contained in the label, varies according to product category and the stage in its use cycle.

There are surprising exceptions and anomalies too that those involved in the handling of hazardous chemicals should know. GHS does not specify a uniform test method but relies on tests conducted by internationally accepted test agencies such as OECD or relies on WHO data in regards to health and environmental hazards. In the case of physical hazards such as flammability and explosive, one may refer to UNSCETDG tests. GHS is based on available data but as new data comes to light the system of classification could change and manufacturers or distributors must keep abreast with these changes. Some chemicals may not need to be labeled and these exceptions apply to pesticides, fungicides and rodenticide or chemicals that fall under special Acts.

As can be seen, GHS has been instrumental in bringing about uniformity in classification and categorization of chemicals but it is vastly complex with exceptions and anomalies. It needs experts to prepare GHS SDS and labels that are fully compliant yet take care of safeguarding proprietary formulations while taking care of anomalies and exceptions.