Frequently asked questions
What is the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS)?
The GHS is a system used to classify and communicate chemical hazards using internationally consistent terms and information on chemical labels and Safety Data Sheets.
The GHS provides criteria for the classification of physical hazards (e.g. flammable liquids), health hazards (e.g. carcinogens) and environmental hazards (e.g. aquatic toxicity).
Australia has adopted the 3rd revised edition of the GHS under the model work health and safety laws. A copy of this edition can be downloaded from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe website.
In Australia, the GHS is supported by:
Why are we using the GHS in Australia?
The GHS was created by the United Nations to create a single worldwide methodology for chemical classification, labelling and Safety Data Sheets (SDS). The system ensures that users are provided with practical, reliable and easy to understand information on chemical hazards, and can take the appropriate preventive and protective measures for their health and safety.
The GHS is expected to provide significant trade benefits to industry as well as improved health and safety outcomes by introducing internationally consistent assessment criteria, labels and SDS for hazardous chemicals.
What is changing under the GHS?
The GHS will update the way in which information about the hazards of chemicals and any precautions necessary to ensure safe storage, handling and disposal, is conveyed to users of chemicals. The GHS uses pictograms, signal words, and hazard and precautionary statements to communicate this information.
Please note that the GHS does not change your general duties relating to the management of hazardous chemicals in the workplace.
There are nine hazard pictograms in the GHS which represent the physical, health and environmental hazards. These are shown on the Classification and labelling for workplace hazardous chemicals poster.
The GHS uses ‘Danger’ and ‘Warning’ as signal words to indicate the relative level of severity of a hazard. ‘Danger’ is used for the more severe or a significant hazard, while ‘Warning’ is used for the less severe hazards.
Hazard and precautionary statements
Hazard statements are assigned to a class and category that describes the nature of the hazard including, where appropriate, the degree of hazard. For example the hazard statement ‘Toxic if swallowed’ is the hazard statement for Acute toxicity category 3 (Oral).
Precautionary statements describe the recommended measures that should be taken to minimise or prevent adverse effects resulting from exposure, or improper storage or handling of a hazardous chemical. The GHS precautionary statements cover prevention, response, storage and disposal.
Hazard and precautionary statements replace the ‘risk’ and ‘safety’ phrases required previously under legislation.
When will the GHS be introduced?
The GHS becomes mandatory on 1 January 2017.
The GHS was introduced in Australia on 1 January 2012 under the model work health and safety laws, with a transition period of five years. This transition period allows chemical manufacturers and importers enough time to reclassify chemicals and implement necessary changes to labels and SDS.
During the transition period, the GHS or the previous hazardous substances and dangerous goods arrangements may be used for classification, labelling and (M)SDS.
Who will be affected by the GHS?
Manufacturers, importers and suppliers of hazardous chemicals will be the most affected by the introduction of the GHS. The model work health and safety laws impose a duty on manufacturers and importers of chemicals supplied to a workplace to determine if a chemical is hazardous, and to correctly classify the chemical according to the GHS. Manufacturers and importers are also responsible for ensuring that correct GHS labels and SDS are prepared for hazardous chemicals.
End users of hazardous chemicals will be affected to a lesser extent. Users of hazardous chemicals are not required to relabel or dispose of existing stock. From 1 January 2017 onwards, suppliers and end users of hazardous chemicals must only supply and accept hazardous chemicals which have been classified and labelled in accordance with the GHS.
Should I be using the GHS now?
Yes. While the GHS is not mandatory until 1 January 2017, it can be used for the classification, labelling and SDS of workplace hazardous chemicals.
Manufacturers and importers of hazardous chemicals are encouraged to transition to the GHS as soon as possible to ensure suppliers are able to supply GHS compliant chemical stock after the transition period ends.
Will the GHS be mandatory in all Australian states and territories?
The GHS becomes mandatory on 1 January 2017 under the model work health and safety laws. Victoria, Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory have not yet mandated use of the GHS, but do require chemical hazards to be communicated. Commonwealth government agencies and licensees must also comply with the model work health and safety laws.
For information specific to your state or territory, please contact your state or territory work health and safety regulator.
Does the GHS apply to all hazardous chemicals and all industries or are there some exemptions?
There are a number of regulatory regimes which apply to chemicals in Australia, including those for workplace hazardous chemicals, consumer products, agricultural and veterinary chemicals, industrial chemicals, transport of dangerous goods and therapeutic goods. Some chemicals may fall under more than one regulatory regime.
Consumer products and therapeutic goods require labelling under the Poisons Standard and the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989. Chemicals which are used in workplaces in quantities and ways that are consistent with household use, and are used in a way that is incidental to the work that is being carried out, do not need to be labelled in accordance with the GHS.
Therapeutic goods are exempt from workplace labelling when in a form and package intended for intake or administration to a patient or consumers, or intended for use for therapeutic purposes.
Consumer products and therapeutic goods which are in ‘bulk’ for manufacturing, packaging, or compounding purposes are not included in the exemption and must be labelled in accordance with the GHS requirements.
There are also partial exemptions for the labelling of agricultural and veterinary products. These products only require GHS hazard and precautionary statements in addition to the label approved by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority. Information is available on this website on Labelling requirements for agricultural and veterinary chemicals.
More information can be found in the model Code of Practice for Labelling of Workplace Hazardous Chemicals. If you are still unsure whether the chemicals in your workplace need to be classified under the GHS, contact your state or territory work health and safety regulator.
How can I tell if my chemicals are GHS compliant, and if the Safety Data Sheets and labels are correct?
Hazardous chemical labels – Chemicals labelled under the GHS must display the relevant pictograms, signal words, and hazard and precautionary statements. GHS label elements are shown in the Classification and labelling for workplace hazardous chemicals poster.
Chemicals labelled for transport should still have the transport class labels. There are examples of different kinds of labels in Appendix H to the model Code of Practice for Labelling of Workplace Hazardous Chemicals.
Safety Data Sheets (SDS) – The format and most of the information contained in an SDS will remain the same as that included previously in a material safety data sheet. Importantly, information under section 2 (hazard identification) of a SDS will change: instead of displaying risk phrases (R22, R34, etc.) and safety phrases (S22, S34, etc), this section will now contain GHS hazard categories and hazard and precautionary statements. More information on the requirements for section 2 of the SDS can be found on page 11 of the model Code of Practice for the Preparation of Safety Data Sheets for Hazardous Chemicals. Further information is also available on this website on Safety Data Sheets (SDS).
As an end user of hazardous chemicals, do I need to relabel or dispose of chemicals that are not GHS labelled?
No, end users of hazardous chemicals are not required to relabel or dispose of their existing hazardous chemicals.
End users of chemicals are still able to use, handle and store hazardous chemicals labelled in accordance with previous labelling code (for example, the NOHSC code) if the chemical was supplied to them before 1 January 2017. End users of hazardous chemicals should NOT accept new hazardous chemicals labelled in accordance with previous systems from 1 January 2017.
As part of the transition to the GHS end users of hazardous chemicals are encouraged to:
- ensure safe systems of work are in place to manage the risks associated with hazardous chemicals in the workplace
- review their chemical inventory and dispose of chemicals which are out of date or no longer used, and
- talk to chemical suppliers to ensure GHS labelled stock is received from 1 January 2017.
Does the GHS replace the Australian Dangerous Goods (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 used in the workplace however, dangerous goods must meet the labelling requirements prescribed under the WHS Regulations.
Is the GHS in Australia the same as the system used overseas?
While the GHS is used internationally, there are some differences between countries. Typically, these differences occur for one of three reasons.
- Different editions: Australia is transitioning to the 3rd revised edition of the GHS, though other countries may use earlier or later editions.
- Building blocks: When a country starts using the GHS it is not required to adopt all parts of the GHS. This is known as the “building block approach”. As part of the building bock approach Australia does not require classification in some categories under its laws, primarily low level human health hazards and hazards to the environment. This may differ between countries.
- Cut off concentrations: A cut off concentration is the level to which a hazardous chemical needs to be diluted before it is no longer considered hazardous. Different countries may have different cut off concentrations.
More information about the editions, building blocks and cut-off concentrations adopted in different countries can be found on the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe website.
Are there training courses or resources to help me learn about the GHS?
- There are many training providers who offer training in the GHS. Safe Work Australia is not able to make recommendations about specific training providers. However some training tools to assist with transition to the GHS are available on the Classifying workplace hazardous chemicals page.
- Training in any chemical classification system should be provided where a workplace stores, handles, generates, uses or disposes of chemicals classified under that system. For example, placards and chemicals in transit will still need to be assessed under the Australian Dangerous Goods code.
- It is important that a person conducting a business or undertaking ensures that information, training and instruction is provided to workers regarding the risks associated with their work.
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 also contains a downloadable list of chemicals classified according the GHS, called the GHS Hazardous Chemical Information List.
Both HSIS and the GHS Hazardous Chemical Information List contain chemical classifications made by authoritative sources; the European Chemicals Agency and the Australian Department of Health. Please note both HSIS and the GHS Hazardous Chemical Information list are not comprehensive lists of all hazardous chemicals. Many hazardous chemicals have not been classified by the sources used to compile the lists, and are therefore not included on the lists. It is the responsibility of the Australian manufacturer/importer to correctly classify chemicals.
Note: 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 Work Health and Safety 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).