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The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) is a global method of classifying chemicals and preparing labels and safety data sheets (SDS). It gives users practical, consistent and easy to understand information about chemical hazards and helps them take steps to protect their health and safety.

The 3rd revised edition of the GHS (GHS 3) was implemented in Australia on 1 January 2012 and is currently the only system that can be used for developing labels and SDS for workplace hazardous chemicals in all Australian states and territories. 

On 1 January 2021, Australia will begin a two-year transition to the 7th revised edition of the GHS (GHS 7). During the transition, manufacturers and importers may use either GHS 3 or GHS 7 to prepare classifications, labels and SDS for hazardous chemicals. From 1 January 2023, only GHS 7 may be used. 

During the transition, suppliers and users of hazardous chemicals may continue to supply and use chemicals classified and labelled under GHS 3. However, suppliers and users of hazardous chemicals should not supply or receive stock manufactured or imported after 31 December 2022 if it does not have up-to-date labels or SDS under GHS 7.

The two-year transition period will:

  • allow time for manufacturers and importers to prepare new classifications, labels and SDS for their hazardous chemicals,
  • keep Australia in line with our key chemical trading partners, who are also adopting GHS 7, and
  • ensure classifications, labels and SDS are based on the most up-to-date system of classification and hazard communication

Special arrangements for 1 July 2020 to 1 January 2021

Australia’s transition to GHS 7 was originally intended to start on 1 July 2020, however the transition was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To ensure that any importers and manufacturers that had already begun work on implementing GHS 7 are not disadvantaged, state and territory governments agreed to put in place regulatory arrangements allowing businesses to start classifying and labelling chemicals in accordance with GHS 7 from 1 July 2020. Suppliers and end users will also be able to supply and use GHS 7 labelled chemicals under these arrangements. 

As information about the regulatory arrangements in each state and territory becomes available, we will update this page with the details. 

  • New South Wales published the Work Health and Safety (Hazardous Chemicals) Exemption 2020 in the NSW Government Gazette No 138 on Tuesday 30 June. A copy of the Gazette is available on the NSW legislation website. The exemption can be found on pages 28 and 29.
  • South Australia have published information about the transition to GHS 7 on the SafeWork SA website. This includes information about an exemption that enables industry to use GHS 7 from 1 July 2020 if they had been planning to do so already.

If your jurisdiction is not listed above, you should contact your local WHS regulator for more information about the arrangements in place in your area.

Why is Australia moving to GHS 7

The 3rd revised edition of the GHS was published in 2009 and was one of the most recent versions of the GHS available when it was introduced to Australia in 2012. However, it was introduced with a five-year transition period and by the time it became mandatory in 2017, it was no longer the most up to date version of the GHS.

Moving to the 7th revised edition will allow us to stay up to date with trading partners, and up to date with international best practice for chemical assessment and hazard communication. The 7th revised edition of the GHS also brings improvements that will help businesses move away from animal testing and encourage the safe use of hazardous chemicals.

Changes to classification under GHS 7

The information presented below is a brief overview of the changes to classification and labelling requirements under GHS 7. 

More information can be found in the Changes to chemical classifications and labelling under GHS 7 information sheet.

Aerosols

The ‘Flammable Aerosols’ hazard class is renamed to ‘Aerosols’ and a new hazard category for non-flammable aerosols (Category 3) is being added. Classification and labelling requirements for Category 1 and 2 aerosols (i.e. flammable aerosols) are not affected by this change.

Flammable, pyrophoric and chemically unstable gases

The existing flammable gas category (Category 1) is divided into two new categories: Flammable Gas Category 1A and Flammable Gas Category 1B. 

Note that flammable gas Category 2 has not changed and is not being adopted in Australia.

Under Flammable Gas Category 1A, three new flammable gas categories are also introduced:

  • Pyrophoric gas
  • Chemically unstable gas A
  • Chemically unstable gas B

A pyrophoric gas is a flammable gas that is liable to ignite spontaneously in air at a temperature of 54°C or below, while a chemically unstable gas is a flammable gas that is able to react explosively in the absence of air or oxygen.

Desensitised explosives

GHS 7 will include a new hazard class for desensitised explosives. 

Desensitised explosives are solid or liquid explosive substances or mixers which are phlegmatised to suppress their explosive properties. They include:

  • solid desensitised explosives: explosive substances or mixtures which are wetted with water or alcohols or are diluted with other substances, to form a homogenous solid mixture to supress their explosive properties, and
  • liquid desensitised explosives: explosive substances or mixtures which are dissolved or suspended in water or other liquid substances, to form a homogenous liquid mixture to suppress their explosive properties.

Eye irritation

Alongside the transition to GHS 7, the definition of ‘hazardous chemical’ under the model WHS laws is being clarified ensure it captures all Category 2 eye irritants including those that fall under Category 2B. This will be done by removing Category 2B eye irritants from the list of exempt hazard classes and categories. 

Sub-categorisation of eye irritants is permitted but not mandatory in Australia. Further, as Category 2B sits within Category 2/2A, you may instead classify a Category 2B eye irritant into Category 2/2A and use its associated hazard communication elements.

Updated precautionary statements

Many precautionary statements have been updated to make them easier for users to read. GHS 7 also provides greater flexibility in the use of precautionary statements, including combining precautionary statements, and allows for changes to wording if it does not affect the safety message. 

Manufacturers and importers will need to check precautionary statements for their products to see if they need to be updated. If the safety information has not changed, you may not need to update labels and SDS. 

Precautionary statements under GHS 3 may still be used on labels and SDS even after 31 December 2022. However, any new precautionary statements introduced under GHS 7 that affect the product will need to be added to labels and SDS. Similarly, if changes are required to the classification or other SDS and label elements, or if you are reviewing the SDS, you should update precautionary statements to their GHS 7 versions.

More information, including examples of updated precautionary statements, can be found in the GHS 7 information sheet for manufacturers and importers of hazardous chemicals

The updated precautionary statements used in GHS 7 can be found in:

Duties of manufacturers and importers

Manufacturers or importers of hazardous chemicals must:

  • make sure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that chemicals they manufacture or import are without risks to health and safety, and
  • correctly classify the chemicals that they import or manufacture and prepare correct labels and SDS for those chemicals.

Under the model WHS Regulations, a business that packages or re-labels a hazardous chemical with its own product name is a manufacturer and has the same duties as other manufacturers.

From 1 January 2021 to 31 December 2022, you can use either GHS 3 or GHS 7 to classify hazardous chemicals and to prepare labels and SDS.

Any chemicals manufactured or imported from 1 January 2023 must be classified, labelled and have SDS prepared in accordance with GHS 7.

It is a good idea to begin reviewing and updating the classifications, labels and SDS for your chemicals now. This is particularly important if you import or manufacture chemicals that are classifiable as:

  • flammable gases
  • pyrophoric gases
  • chemically unstable gases
  • non-flammable aerosols 
  • desensitised explosives, or
  • Category 2 eye irritants.

Duties of suppliers

A supplier is anyone who supplies a hazardous chemical that may be used at a workplace. This includes intermediaries in the supply chain such as distributors and wholesalers.

Suppliers of hazardous chemicals must:

  • make sure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that chemicals they supply are without risks to health and safety, and
  • provide SDS with hazardous chemicals. 

In addition, a supplier must not supply hazardous chemicals to workplaces if they know, or ought reasonably to know, that the chemicals are not correctly labelled.

Chemicals manufactured or imported before 1 January 2023 can continue to be supplied indefinitely without needing to reclassified or relabelled in accordance with GHS 7.

From 1 January 2023, suppliers should only accept stock which is classified and labelled in accordance with GHS 7 and has SDS prepared in accordance with GHS 7.

Duties of hazardous chemical users

Users of hazardous chemicals are not required to re-label or dispose of any existing stock. 

It is okay to keep using, handling and storing hazardous chemicals labelled in accordance with GHS 3 in your workplace if the product was manufactured or imported before 1 January 2023, regardless of when it was supplied to you.

Users should not accept hazardous chemicals manufactured or imported on or after 1 January 2023 unless they are classified and labelled in accordance with GHS 7 and have SDS prepared in accordance with GHS 7.

More information

Safe Work Australia has produced several information sheets on the adoption of GHS 7. These information sheets provide more detail about the classification and labelling requirements for hazardous chemicals and the duties of the manufacturers, importers, suppliers and users of hazardous chemicals.

Read the Model Work Health and Safety Regulations (Hazardous Chemicals) Amendment 2020 and associated explanatory statement which implement GHS 7.

The model Codes of Practice for hazardous chemicals have also been updated to reflect the transition to GHS 7. The changes are primarily found in: 

For the complete criteria to classifying hazardous chemicals, as well as the hazard communication information to be included on labels and SDS, refer to a copy of the GHS 7th Revised Edition, which can be found on the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe website.
 

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