Hazard Communication


Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) is a standardized, international approach to hazard communication. The standard, which was previously known as the 'Right to Know', is now referred to as the “Right to Understand.” The purpose of the standard is to ensure employees are informed of: the hazards of chemicals they may encounter in their workplace, the proper personal protective equipment to use to protect themselves from the hazards, and procedures to follow in the event of an exposure to hazardous chemicals. You, as an RIT employee, have the right to know the properties and potential health & safety hazards of any hazardous chemical to which you may be exposed. (A hazardous chemical is any chemical that may harm you physically or that may pose a hazard to your health.)

There are Five major elements to a Hazard Communication Program:

  • Written Hazard Communication Plan
  • Chemical Inventory- completed annually
  • Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs)/Safety Data Sheets (SDSs)-retained locally where chemicals are used
  • Labeling & Marking- proper labeling of containers
  • Employee Information & Training

Applicable Regulation

29 CFR 1910.1200

Management Requirements

This program requires many facets of participation. The following items are critical to successful implementation of the RIT Hazard Communication Plan:

  • Development of a RIT Hazard Communication Plan
  • Employee and Student Training
  • Availability and accessibility of MSDSs/SDSs
  • Appropriate chemical labelling
  • Providing appropriate engineering controls, workplace safety controls and personal protective equipment where required.

Chemical manufacturers or importers are required to assess the hazards of chemicals which they produce and to provide end users with this information through the use of appropriate labels and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs)/Safety Data Sheets (SDSs).

RIT as the employer is responsible for ensuring that employees are appropriately informed and trained, appropriate provisions are made for the employees to protect themselves from the hazards they may encounter, and the Hazard Communication Plan is documented.

This program also requires departmental, supervisory and employee participation. This participation can be accomplished by: ensuring that you attend required training, maintaining appropriate container labeling of the chemicals you use, ensuring MSDS/SDS are available for the chemicals you have in your department, and by following workplace safety practices and controls for the chemicals you are using.

Training Requirements

All non-laboratory employees are required to receive hazard communication training prior to working with hazardous chemicals. Refresher training must also be provided when new types of chemical hazards are introduced to the workplace.

The RIT generic Hazard Communication online training presentation is provided by the RIT EH&S Department through CPD's Talent Roadmap. Live presentations can also be done by the RIT Environmental Health & Safety Department upon request.


All contractors who use hazardous chemicals at RIT must maintain MSDSs/SDSs on site and provide the information to RIT upon request.

Faculty, staff and students will be informed in the event that contractors will be using chemicals in their area, as needed. Precautionary measures necessary to protect themselves from hazardous chemicals, when applicable, will be communicated through the FMS project manager or EH&S.

Contractors will be required to maintain labeling on all hazardous chemicals in accordance with the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard. All labeling must be legible and in English.

All of the contractor’s hazardous materials shall be properly stored while on campus, in order to reduce the likelihood of an unintended release or exposure.

Globally Harmonized System (GHS)

What is it?

A Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for Hazard Classification and Labelling. It is an international, standardized approach to hazard communication. The introduction of this system ensures that chemical users worldwide will understand the labeling and hazard identification associated with chemicals. The criteria for classification of chemical hazards, chemical labels and Safety Data Sheets (SDS, formerly Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)) are all going to follow a standard set of rules. This change has been described as moving from 'the right to know' to 'the right to understand'.

What does it mean for me?

GHS provides a common, coherent approach to defining and classifying chemical hazards and the protective measures necessary to prevent exposure. It requires standard labels for all chemicals regardless of manufacturer. This is the first and most obvious change you will see. Each label has; the chemical name, a signal word, a hazard statement, pictograms representing the hazards associated with the chemical, precautionary statements and the name and address of the manufacturer.

Click here for an example label.

Signal Words: Danger and Warning
The two signal words that are on every label are 'Danger' and 'Warning'. What you need to know is that chemicals with the signal word 'Danger' pose the greater hazard.

Hazard Statements: Key Words
Hazard statements on chemical labels describe the nature of the hazard with key words indicating the severity of the hazard.
Click here to see example hazard statements.

Standard pictograms are used to represent the physical and health hazards related to each chemical.
Click here to see the GHS pictograms.

Safety Data Sheets

The next significant change was Safety Data Sheets replaced Material Safety Data Sheets. Unlike the former MSDS, the SDS format has been standardized. All manufacturers were required to provide safety information in the same format. This makes it easier to find the pertinent information needed to handle a chemical safely. Click here for a list of the SDS sections.

Hazard Ratings - Significant Change!!!

Be aware of the fact that a significant change has occurred with respect to hazard ratings under GHS. Numeric hazard ratings in GHS are the OPPOSITE of what they were with the Hazardous Materials Identification System (HMIS) and the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA). Now, the lower the rating, the higher the hazard! The numeric hazard ratings for a chemical is included on the SDS. In most cases, this should be found in the Hazards Identification section (section 2). Recent experience however has shown that this may not be the case for every SDS. Hazard ratings have also been found in section 15 (Regulatory information) and section 16 (Other information).

Click here for a visual reference regarding this change. It will be very important to pay attention to which numeric system is being used!

What about other agencies?

The Department of Transportation (DOT), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission all took part in developing the GHS. The DOT has modified its classification and labelling requirements to be in line with the new system.

The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) has a separate system for classifying chemical hazards. This system will NOT be changing. As GHS reaches full implementation there may come a need to slightly modify the NFPA system but it will not go away. The agencies are depending on individuals being trained and made aware of the differences in order to prevent confusion. As an individual working with chemicals, the most important thing to remember is that the numeric hazard classifications used in the two systems are opposite one another.


It is especially important to know if you are looking at hazard information from GHS, NFPA or HMIS. If you have questions - ASK!

The intent of GHS is to ensure hazard classifications are consistent and standardized on an international level. This will help prevent workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities while ensuring the safe use of chemicals from cradle to grave.

Contact the RIT Environmental Health and Safety Department with any questions at (585) 475-7092.