Hazardous chemicals including Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS)

Workplace hazardous chemicals are substances, mixtures and articles used in the workplace that can be classified according to their health, physical and chemical (physicochemical) hazards. Health hazards are hazards like skin irritants, carcinogens or respiratory sensitisers that have an adverse effect on a worker’s health as a result of direct contact with or exposure to the chemical, usually through inhalation, skin contact or ingestion. Physicochemical hazards generally result from the physical or chemical properties, like flammable, corrosive, oxidising or explosive substances.

Manufacturers, importers, suppliers and users of hazardous chemicals have duties to manage the risks associated with hazardous chemicals in the workplace. This includes ensuring the safe use, handling and storage of chemicals, as well as specific duties under the model Work Health and Safety Regulations Further information can found in the model Code of Practice for Managing the Risks of Hazardous Chemicals in the Workplace.

Classification of workplace hazardous chemicals

Since the introduction of the NOHSC model Regulations for the control of workplace hazardous substances (1994) and the Dangerous Goods Standard (2001), hazardous chemicals have been classified by the Approved Criteria for Classifying Hazardous Substances and the Australian Code for the Transport of Dangerous Goods by Road and Rail (ADG Code).

In 2012, following the adoption of the model Work Health and Safety Regulations, Australia began to transition to the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), an international system used to classify and communicate chemical hazards.

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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.

Pictograms

There are nine hazard pictograms in the GHS which represent the physical, health and environmental hazards. These are named: Explosives, Flammables, Oxidisers, Gasses under pressure, Corrosives, Acute toxicity, Environmental hazard, Harmful/irritant Harmful to ozone layer and Severe health hazards.

pictograms visual


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 and precautionary 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. 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 under previous laws.

For more information, see the classification and labelling for workplace hazardous chemicals poster.

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.

GHS Hazardous Chemical Information System

The Hazardous Chemical Information System (HCIS) is a database of information on chemicals that have been classified in accordance with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). HCIS contains GHS classifications and labelling information for over 4,500 chemicals and a searchable database of workplace exposure standards. HCIS replaces the previous Hazardous Substance Information System (HSIS).

Further information on hazardous chemicals in the workplace

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