Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS)

What is the GHS?

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) is a single internationally agreed system of chemical classification and hazard communication through labelling and Safety Data Sheets (SDS). The GHS is published by the United Nations and is sometimes referred to as ‘the purple book’. It includes harmonised criteria for the classification of:

  • physical hazards,
  • health hazards, and
  • environmental hazards.

The new WHS Regulations reference the 3rd Revised Edition of the GHS, which can be downloaded here.

It is expected that the GHS will provide trade benefits to industry as well as improved health and safety outcomes through use of internationally consistent hazard communication elements.

What is Hazard Communication?

Hazard communication is a term used to describe how critical information about the hazards of chemicals and any precautions necessary to ensure safe storage, handling and disposal, are conveyed to users of chemicals. 

In the GHS, hazards are communicated to chemical users through a combination of symbols as well as words, in the form of signal words, hazard statements and precautionary statements. These are intended to appear on labels and in SDS.

Pictograms

There are nine hazard pictograms in the GHS which represent the physical, health and environmental hazards:

 

Exploding bomb

Flame

Flame over circle 

 Exploding bomb

 Flame

Flame over circle

Explosive

Flammable

Oxidising

 

 

Gas cylinder

Skull & crossbones

Exclamation mark 

Gas cylinder

skull and cross bones

Exclamation mark

Gases under pressure

Acute toxicity

Health hazards

 

Corrosion

Health hazard 

Environment 

 

Corrosion

Health hazard

Environment

Corrosive

Chronic health hazards

Environmental

 

For more information on pictograms, see the Code of Practice for the Labelling of Workplace Hazardous Chemicals.

NOTE: The GHS system also recognises the equivalent pictograms that apply to Dangerous Goods under the ADG Code.

Signal Words

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 Statements

Hazard statements are assigned to a class and category that describes the nature of the hazards of a chemical, including, where appropriate, the degree of hazard.

Precautionary Statements

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 categorises precautionary statements according to whether they relate to prevention, response, storage and disposal. 

Key GHS Documents


Useful external links:

The current GHS documents may be found at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) website:

 

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