August 7, 2019

Understanding the GHS and HAZCOM for safer workplaces

Workplaces with potentially harmful chemicals should stay in strict compliance with the latest HAZCOM guidelines.

A hand holds out a warning sign.

How does your workplace deal with chemical safety?

If your organization’s facilities contain potentially harmful chemicals, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Hazard Communication Standard is a major part of both compliance and safety operations within the workplace. Failure to keep up with HAZCOM standards could mean fines and other regulatory actions from OSHA, but on a more fundamental level, noncompliance also means potentially exposing employees to unnecessary risks. Therefore, you should take HAZCOM extremely seriously, from posting warning labels to educating team members on the meaning of the standardized pictograms.


The most significant HAZCOM updates in recent years have brought the system of warning labels into compliance with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. This international integration of labeling styles simplifies the process of identifying potentially harmful elements and dealing with them effectively, but only if your organization is on top of the latest changes, with up-to-date safety data sheets for every hazard in the workplace.
Having approved labels on all covered substances is one major pillar of an effective HAZCOM program, and keeping detailed safety data sheets for each of those chemicals is another. Neither of these practices will keep your workers safe, however, if they haven’t received training on the proper handling of dangerous substances in the workplace. This training isn’t just a good idea, it’s part of OSHA’s HAZCOM requirements.
OSHA’s regulations specify that HAZCOM programs are not one-and-done operations. Instead of only thinking about labeling and training when your company first begins working with potentially hazardous substances, you must keep up with changes over time. Long-term commitment to the program, with supervisors ensuring all employees who work with chemicals have the right training, is extremely important. Understanding the “why” behind HAZCOM warnings is also vital, as workers who grasp the purpose of the program are more likely to take their training seriously.
Your modernized HAZCOM strategy should consist of a written blueprint that describes both the potential hazards in the workplace and the measures you’re implementing to keep your team safe. OSHA noted that during an inspection, compliance officers begin by asking for the written plan, then compare the actual execution of the strategy to that document.

A cabinet of chemicals with warning labels.What are the risks of handling the chemicals in your workplace?

Effective HAZCOM Training

According to OSHA, a properly implemented training strategy for workers potentially exposed to hazardous substances will inspire “comprehension and understanding” of the system in place. Rather than simply enforcing a rote knowledge of what each hazard symbol looks like and what it means, sessions should inform workers of their responsibilities and duties when handling chemicals, as well as the importance of protecting themselves with careful practices and personal protective equipment.
OSHA added that workers should feel at liberty to seek out extra information if they don’t understand something in the training materials. Through asking questions and speaking to responsible supervisors, these employees can then carry out their tasks with no lingering uncertainty. The end result of truly effective and compliant training programs are more effective processes for buying chemicals and storing them, as well as actively handling them. Such a comprehensive form of employee education lessens the chances of dangerous mistakes in every stage of chemical use.
The exact content of a GHS-informed HAZCOM training program will likely depend on the nature of the chemicals present in the workplace. OSHA notes that materials may break down risks and practices by category, in situations in which there are only a few covered chemicals, tackle each one individually. Whichever approach your company takes, every employee who might be exposed to the substances should receive education in the relevant risks and best practices.

Examples of HAZCOM Courses

Due to the wide variety of chemicals requiring HAZCOM labels, there are dozens of training products to help your team stay safe and compliant. The following are just a few video-based courses designed to prepare employees to identify and handle the potentially dangerous chemicals they deal with every day:

  • Hazard Communication and GHS: What’s Wrong With This Picture?: This course, designed to prepare workers to deal with GHS HAZCOM safety data sheets, lets workers know what their rights are regarding safety information and chemical handling. By getting an overview of the GHS pictograms and the related safety data sheets, employees gain a quick way to recognize risks and respond accordingly.
  • Hazard Communication: Your Key to GHS Chemical Safety: Sometimes, the best way to handle a complicated system such as GHS is to break the ideas down into simple, easy-to-remember elements. This course introduces workers to four questions to ask when they see a hazard label.
  • Hazard Communication Program: To The Point: This course provides a “to the point” overview of the Hazard Communication Program and the GHS. Everything is covered from pictograms to chemical labels and safety data sheets. 

With the right training and a formalized safety plan, you can revolutionize the handling of chemicals in your workplace.

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