An Overview

GHS is the acronym for the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, known in the hazard communication community as the “Purple Book.”  GHS was born from an international mandate adopted at the 1992 “Earth Summit,” the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED).  Several updates to the "Purple Book" have been made since its first publication in February 2003, with the most recent publication being the fourth revised edition in July 2011.

Given the expansion of a global economy and international trade, the GHS seeks to achieve global unification of chemical classifications. The GHS defines the physical, health and environmental hazards of chemicals by means of classification endpoints.  This system provides the foundation for developing countries to create regulations ensuring the safe use of chemicals by workers, consumers, emergency responders and the public.  For countries with established regulatory requirements, the existing laws and regulations are similar, but there are still enough differences to currently require multiple Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and labels for the same product when it is sold in multiple regulatory environments.  Adoption of the GHS for these countries means reducing the variation among independent classification systems and moving towards global hazard communication.

There is no international implementation schedule for the GHS. Instead, implementation will be staggered globally, adopted on a country-by-country basis. Countries with no system in place to communicate hazards will have the easiest time adopting the GHS. Countries with existing systems will need to consider phase-in or building-block strategies for transition from current requirements to the new GHS requirements.

In the United States, for example, four governing bodies or competent authorities have regulations which are affected by the GHS: OSHA, EPA, DOT and CPSC. Several countries have published GHS classifications in preparation for implementation. Japan’s efforts include the development of an international GHS classification list which classifies over 2000 chemicals. The European Union includes a list of classifications in its Regulation (EC) no 1272/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures, and amending Directive 67/548/EEC and 1999/45/EC and amending Regulation (EC) no 1907/2006. In December 2007, New Zealand released their list of GHS classifications which are accessible via a web-based search. For Australia, there is a short list of GHS classifications provided by the Department of Health and Ageing from Priority Existing Chemical Assessment reports. Taiwan published a list of Hazardous and Harmful Substances which will require specific labeling provisions in coordination with GHS under the Rules on Labeling and Hazard Communication of Hazardous and Harmful Substances.

All of these lists are available as part of ChemADVISOR’s LOLI® database. ChemADVISOR will add GHS classification lists from other countries as they become available. For more information on global implementation status, please visit:


Hazard Classification

The GHS uses the term "hazard classification" to indicate that only the intrinsic hazardous properties of substances or mixtures are considered. The GHS contains three main hazard classification categories:

  • Physical hazards
  • Health hazards
  • Environmental hazards

The Physical Hazards criteria are segregated into the following sixteen classification endpoints:

  • Explosives
  • Flammable gases
  • Aerosols
  • Oxidizing gases
  • Gases under pressure
  • Flammable liquids
  • Flammable solids
  • Self-reactive substances and mixtures
  • Pyrophoric liquids
  • Pyrophoric solids
  • Self-heating substances and mixtures
  • Substances and mixtures which, in contact with water, emit flammable gases
  • Oxidizing liquids
  • Oxidizing solids
  • Organic peroxides
  • Corrosive to metals

Chemical mixtures must be tested for physical hazards with a few exceptions.

The Health Hazards criteria are segregated into the following ten classification endpoints:

  • Acute toxicity [where substances are assigned to one of the five toxicity categories on the basis of LD50 (oral, dermal) or LC50 (inhalation) values]
  • Skin corrosion/irritation
  • Serious eye damage/eye irritation
  • Respiratory or skin sensitization
  • Germ cell mutagenicity
  • Carcinogenicity
  • Reproductive toxicity
  • Specific target organ toxicity single exposure
  • Specific target organ toxicity repeated exposure
  • Aspiration hazard

The Environmental Hazards criteria are segregated into Hazards to the aquatic environment (acute and chronic) and Hazardous to the ozone layer. 

  • Batching
  • Interpolation within one toxic category
  • Substantially similar mixtures
  • Aerosols

Bridging principles ensure that the classification process uses the available data to the greatest extent possible without requiring additional animal testing.


The GHS also includes harmonized label and SDS provisions. GHS label elements include the following:

  • Symbols (hazard pictograms): Convey health, physical and environmental hazard information, assigned to a GHS hazard class and category
  • Signal Words:
    • "Danger" or "Warning" indicates the relative level of severity of the hazard
    • "Caution" is NOT a signal word in the GHS
  • Hazard Statements: Standardized phrases describing the nature of the hazard
  • Precautionary Statements and Pictograms: Statements to minimize or prevent adverse effects
  • Product Identifier (ingredient disclosure): Name or number used for a hazardous product on a SDS or label
  • Supplier identification: The name, address and telephone number
  • Supplemental information: non-GHS harmonized information

Safety Data Sheets

GHS SDSs include sixteen sections with section headers comparable to ANSI Z400.1/ANSI Z119.1-2010. A table comparing GHS SDSs with ISO, ANSI and OSHA (M)SDSs is provided in Appendix A of OSHA’s guidance document, A Guide to The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS):

Updates to SDS and labels should be made when "new and significant" information is received about a chemical hazard. New and significant information is any information that changes the GHS classification and leads to a change in the label information or information that may affect the SDS.
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