Frequently asked questions
What is the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS)?
The GHS is a single, globally harmonised system of classification of chemicals, labels and safety data sheets. The GHS was developed by the United Nations and is being progressively implemented in many countries internationally.
View more information on the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).
When will the GHS be implemented into Australian work health and safety legislation?
Manufacturers and importers can begin using the GHS for classification, labelling and safety data sheets (SDS) of workplace hazardous chemicals now. However, the GHS is not mandatory until 1 January 2017. Until then, either the GHS or the existing classification, labelling and MSDS system for hazardous substances and dangerous goods can be used. See further information about transitional arrangements.
Can I use later editions of the GHS for classification and labelling?
The WHS Regulations adopt the 3rd revised Edition of the GHS. Later editions of the GHS contain some hazard classes and categories for chemicals that are not covered by the WHS Regulations. Additional hazard information for GHS classes and categories can be used on labels and Safety Data Sheets (SDS) as long as it does not detract from or cast doubt upon the hazard information on labels and SDS required under the WHS Regulations.
Does the GHS replace the ADG Code?
No. You must continue to comply with the ADG Code and relevant state and territory transport laws for the transport of dangerous goods by road and rail. When in the workplace however, dangerous goods must meet the labelling requirements prescribed under the WHS Regulations. See further information on labelling.
Classification of Hazardous Chemicals
Who is required to classify a chemical?
Under the model WHS Regulations, the manufacturer and importer of hazardous chemicals have a duty to correctly classify a chemical before the chemical is supplied to a workplace.
Do I have to re-classify and re-label hazardous chemicals imported from overseas?
Some overseas countries have already implemented the GHS so labels of some GHS-classified chemicals imported from overseas will be largely compliant with Australian workplace labelling requirements. However, some Australian-specific information is required on labels, for example the contact details of the Australian manufacturer or importer. The WHS Regulations (Schedule 6) also prescribe specific cut-off concentrations for classification of mixtures which may differ from some overseas requirements.
The importer of a hazardous chemical is required under the WHS Regulations to correctly classify the chemical being imported and to label the chemical in accordance with the correct classification. Refer to the Code of Practice: Labelling of Workplace Hazardous Chemicals for more information.
How do I find if a chemical has already been classified in accordance with the GHS?
There are various lists of hazardous chemicals that can be used for information in regards to classification of workplace hazardous chemicals. Some useful sources include:
Classifiers need to be aware that international sources of chemical classifications may not be in accordance with the WHS Regulations.
Are there any tools which could assist me in re-classifying hazardous chemicals?
There are translation tools available which can assist manufacturers and importers to translate hazardous substances and dangerous goods classifications into the corresponding GHS classifications.
- GHS converter (BRCI)
These tools should be used as a guide only, as international requirements may vary from those under the WHS Regulations. Further information on translation of existing hazardous substances and dangerous goods classifications into the corresponding GHS classifications will soon be available on this website.
- Guidance on requirements for classification of hazardous chemicals under the WHS regulations (under development).
Who is responsible for ensuring that hazardous chemicals are labelled?
Who approves labels?
Labels of workplace hazardous chemicals do not need to be formally approved to meet work health and safety requirements. The work health and safety regulator in your state or territory is responsible for determining whether a label complies with the WHS Regulations. Contact the work health and safety regulator in your state or territory for more information.
Note: Other regulatory requirements may apply to some workplace hazardous chemicals, requiring product registration and label approval.
Safety Data Sheets
What is a Safety Data Sheet (SDS)?
A Safety Data Sheet (SDS), previously called a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), is a document that provides information on the properties of hazardous chemicals and how they affect health and safety in the workplace. For example it includes information on the identity, health and physicochemical hazards, safe handling and storage, emergency procedures, and disposal considerations of hazardous chemicals and their constituents.
An SDS is an important source of information that should be considered when making any decisions on managing risk from hazardous chemicals in the workplace.
What is the difference between an SDS and an MSDS?
In an SDS, information on the chemical hazards is based on the GHS classification, rather than the hazardous substances and dangerous goods classifications. Both provide equivalent levels of information on chemical hazards and health and safety precautions, and either are able to be used in the workplace to meet requirements for managing risks under the WHS Regulations.
More information can be found in Safe Work Australia’s Code of Practice for the Preparation of Safety Data Sheets for Hazardous Chemicals.
Do overseas SDS meet Australian requirements?
Some overseas countries have already implemented the GHS so the SDS of some GHS-classified chemicals imported from overseas will be largely compliant with Australian workplace SDS requirements. However, some Australian-specific information is required on the SDS, for example the contact details of the Australian manufacturer or importer. The WHS Regulations (Schedule 6) also prescribe specific cut-off concentrations for classification of mixtures which may differ from some overseas requirements.
The importer of a hazardous chemical is required under the WHS Regulations to correctly classify the chemical being imported and to prepare an SDS in accordance with the correct classification. Refer to the Code of Practice for the Preparation of Safety Data Sheets for Hazardous Chemicals.
How often should SDS be reviewed?
The manufacturer or importer of the hazardous chemical must:
- review the SDS at least once every 5 years; and
- amend whenever necessary to ensure that it contains correct, current information, for example if new data becomes available which changes the chemical’s hazard classification.
Do SDS need to be formally approved?
No, SDS do not need to be formally approved. However, the work health and safety regulator in each state and territory is responsible for determining whether an SDS complies with the WHS Regulations.
Hazardous Substances Information System (HSIS)
Where can I get a list of hazardous chemicals?
Safe Work Australia maintains a list of hazardous substances within the Hazardous Substances Information System (HSIS) database. This database contains a list of hazardous substances classified according to the Approved Criteria for the Classification of Hazardous Substances [NOHSC:1008(2004)].
HSIS does not contain information on GHS classifications.
Australia currently does not maintain its own list of GHS-classified chemicals. However, some countries have already classified many thousands of chemicals according to GHS criteria. For example, Europe has GHS classifications for some 6000 chemicals in Annex VI to their CLP Regulations.
Note that international adoption of the GHS can vary so information obtained from international sources should only be used as a guide to assist you meet your requirements under the WHS Regulations.
Other useful sources of information include:
Can I assume a chemical is not hazardous if it does not appear on the HSIS database?
Where can I find the current national exposure standards for atmospheric contaminants?
Under the WHS Regulations National Exposure Standards are now referred to as Workplace Exposure Standards. These are contained in a new publication which is available on the Safe Work Australia website. Exposure standards can also be found in the HSIS database.
For more information on hazardous chemicals with exposure standards, refer to the following documents: Workplace Exposure Standards for Airborne Contaminants and the Guidance on Workplace Exposure Standards for Airborne Contaminants (under development).