Globally Harmonized System for Hazard Communication

The Globally Harmonized System includes criteria for the classification of health, physical and environmental hazards, as well as specifying what information should be included on labels of hazardous chemicals as well as safety data sheets.

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) was originally proposed in 1992 at the "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janerio, Brazil and later adopted by the United Nations (UN) in 2003. The GHS is a way to standardize the way hazardous materials are classified around the world. The HazCom GHS also standardizes the way hazards are communicated by means of Warning Labels and Safety Data Sheets.

Before implementing the GHS, different countries around the world had their own standards for determining what was hazardous and each had its own unique system for communicating these hazards. The HazCom GHS is intended to replace these multiple systems with a single unified approach. Below you will find a list of common GHS symbols and their meaning, you can read the full text of the Globally Harmonized System on the UN website.

Three Main GHS Hazard Groups

1. Physical Hazards

Physical Hazards Are explosive, reactive or flammable materials that can harm people and damage property and processes.


Corrosive materials can eat away clothing, metals, working surfaces and other materials. (See also under Health Hazards)

Gas Cylinder

Gasses under pressure can explode, rocket and damage health if they are heated, ruptured or leaking.

Exploding Bomb

Explosive materials can blow up.


Flammable materials can burst into flames easily.

Flame Over Circle

Oxidizing materials can cause other materials to catch fire or explode.

2. Health Hazards

Health Hazards Can harm people and include materials causing a wide range of effects from minor skin irritation to life threatening conditions.


Corrosive materials can seriously damage the skin and eyes. (See also under Physical Hazards)

Health Hazard

Prolonged exposure to these materials may cause health problems such as cancer and birth defects. Some chemicals showing this symbol may cause asthma or damage to specific organs of the body.

Skull Crossbones

Exposure to these materials can cause immediate and possibly serious health problems.

Exclamation Mark

These materials can cause immediate health effects such as skin rashes or repiratory irritation. (See also under environmental hazards)

3. Environmental Hazards

Environmental Hazards Can harm life in water or can damage the earth's ozone layer.

Exclamation Mark

Some materials with this symbol may damage the ozone layer (See also under Health Hazards).


These materials can kill fish or other wildlife that live in the water.

Information Found on a Safety Data Sheet

Safety Data Sheets are an essential component of the GHS and are intended to provide comprehensive information about a substance or mixture for use in workplace chemical management.

In the GHS, they serve the same function that the Material Safety Data Sheet or MSDS does in OSHA's HazCom Standard. A SDS should include the following:

1.) Identification
2.) Hazard(s) Identification
3.) Composition/Information on Ingredients
4.) First-Aid Measures
5.) Fire-Fighting Measures
6.) Accidental Release Measures
7.) Handling and Storage
8.) Exposure Controls/Personal Protection
9.) Physical and Chemical Properties
10.) Stability and Reactivity
11.) Toxicological Information
12.) Ecological Information
13.) Disposal Considerations
14.) Transport Information
15.) Regulatory Information
16.) Other Information

Precautionary Statement Pictograms

GHS pictograms describe recommended measures that should be taken to minimize or prevent adverse effects resulting from exposure to a hazardous product, or improper storage or handling of a hazardous product.

Product identifier means the name or number used for a hazardous product on a label or in the SDS. It provides a unique means by which the product user can identify the substance or mixture within the particular use setting (e.g. transport, consumer or workplace).

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