This infographic, titled “What’s Next? The Timeline of GHS Compliance,” includes an illustrated timeline of important dates in the history of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), as well as key compliance deadlines for employers and others who handle hazardous chemicals in the United States. The infographic puts the transition to GHS into context so people can better understand how these guidelines came to impact American workplaces.

GHS was developed by the United Nations to standardize the way chemicals are classified and labeled internationally. This standardization was designed to make it easier for people to understand the health, physical, and environmental hazards of the substances that come through their facilities. It also helps facilitate trade and reduce time and costs associated with poor or inconsistent communication about chemical hazards.

GHS itself is not a law; it is a system that countries can choose to adopt or modify to fit their needs. Sixty-eight countries around the world currently participate in GHS. In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) adopted GHS guidelines in 2012, and the final deadline for businesses to comply with these new requirements was June of 2016. Intermediate deadlines in 2013 and 2015 required employers to train their employees on the new standards and required distributers to begin sending chemicals only with updated labeling and safety information.

As part of the GHS standardization, businesses that handle hazardous chemicals must now do three things: follow GHS standards for classifying chemicals, use the updated safety data sheet format, and create GHS labels for secondary workplace containers that provide people the information they need to safely handle a chemical.

Safety data sheets (formerly known as material safety data sheets, or MSDS, before the GHS format was adopted) are forms that come with shipped chemicals that list all the important information a person might need to know about those chemicals. Safety data sheets contain 16 sections that include things such as contact information for the manufacturer, hazard statements about handling the chemicals, storage instructions, and first aid procedures. These safety data sheets are used to create GHS labels for chemical containers.

GHS labels must contain six components: the product identifier (chemical name), a signal word (either Danger or Warning, depending on how dangerous the chemical is), hazard statements describing the nature of the hazard, precautionary statements instructing people about how to handle the chemical, supplier information (name, address, and phone number), and appropriate pictograms, which are red diamonds with black symbols inside that represent the types of hazards presented by chemicals. These pictograms are especially important because people can recognize them even if the label’s text is in another language.

The top of this infographic shows the timeline for when employers were required to comply with the different parts of GHS during the transition period. Those interested may also find the information about the different countries involved in developing GHS and the process of gathering input for the new standards useful. Seeing how U.S. requirements fit in with larger global requirements can help people understand the importance of these standards on larger scale.

GHS Timeline: What's Next?