The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) was first developed back in 1992. This was at the Rio Conference on Environmental and Development by the United Nations (more commonly called Earth Summit 1992). At this event, the International Labor Organization and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, along with several other parties, worked together to come up with a system that could be used by companies around the world.
This was prompted by the fact that a growing number of companies were operating on a global scale, and each country would use their own set of safety standards. This meant separate labels, material safety data sheets, symbols, and other items were in use based on the various standards set by the countries. Creating GHS helped to dramatically reduce the amount of confusion and conflicting information that was present, while also helping to lower the costs associated with this type of safety standard.
Who Regulates GHS?
GHS is managed by the United Nations. The UN was instrumental in creating the GHS, and has worked to keep it updated and relevant based on changing industries. They take input from member countries as well as companies that follow the GHS standards. Any updates or changes that are needed will go through the UN to be evaluated, gain consensus, and finally get implemented into the official GHS set of standards.
While the UN manages the various concepts of GHS, they aren’t actually a regulatory body in this area. For most countries, the UN can’t impose regulations on an industry, but can only make recommendations. In the United States, for example, GHS itself is not mandatory. OSHA, however, does base their chemical labeling safety standards on GHS, which effectively makes it a requirement to follow GHS standards when operating in the US. Even without strict governmental regulations, most companies follow the GHS standards because it is proven to improve safety and it makes it easier to do business with other compliant companies.