How are toxic materials classified under GHS?

The OSHA-adopted Globally Harmonized System provides the framework for classification with defined classes and categories for hazardous chemicals. GHS classifies chemicals into three hazard classes: health hazards, physical hazards, and environmental hazards. Toxic materials are classified as a health hazard, further described in the following 10 health hazard categories:

  • Acute toxicity
  • Skin corrosion
  • Skin irritation
  • Eye damage or eye irritation
  • Sensitization of the skin or eyes
  • Germ cell mutagenicity
  • Carcinogenicity
  • Reproductive toxicity
  • Target organ systemic toxicity: single and repeated exposure
  • Aspiration toxicity

Understanding how toxic substances are classified will also come in handy when creating compliant labels. Assigning a hazard class and category will determine the applicable hazard statements, a required element of GHS labels and safety data sheets (SDSs).

What is a toxic substance?

Technically speaking, toxicity refers to how much of the substance is required to cause harm. The toxicity of substances depends on three factors: its chemical structure, the extent to which the substance is absorbed by the body, and the body’s ability to detoxify the substance and eliminate it from the body. Toxic substances are defined as a chemicals that can cause harm to human health through inhalation, skin absorption, or ingestion.

Toxic substances can commonly be found in most workplaces or laboratories, e.g. isopropyl alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and methylene chloride. When employees are exposed to toxic materials, symptoms can range anywhere from stomachaches and nausea to dizziness and headaches. Toxic substances can also introduce new hazards—for instance a toxic chemical may also be flammable. All of this information about the chemical is detailed in the corresponding SDS.

Safety for Handling Toxic Materials

Proper safety measures should be taken when handling or working with toxic substances. Some things to take under consideration include:

  • GHS labels: Because GHS labels are a universally accepted standard, employees will be able to know what hazards are present and what precautions should be taken.
  • Training: All employees should receive training on safely using toxic chemicals, how to read GHS labels, and where safety data sheets are located.
  • Toxic storage cabinets: Safe storage is key to keeping everyone in the facility from toxic substances.

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