When it comes to managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace, we must take every precaution to protect the people who use them, the environment and our property. Hazard communication through labels and safety data sheets is essential for reducing costly accidents and serious health risks — as well as your financial and legal liability. In Australia, the GHS labelling of hazardous goods offers a standardised and internationally recognised system of labelling chemicals. We explain what the GHS is, why hazardous chemicals require this labelling system and how it can reduce risk in your workplace.

What is a GHS Label?

GHS compliant labels classify chemicals by the types of hazards that they present. Countries which have adopted the Globally Harmonised System must ensure that all hazardous chemical labelling complies with the requirements of the GHS.

The Globally Harmonised System (GHS) of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals was created by the UN as an internationally consistent standard for the classification and labelling of hazardous chemicals. As of the 1st of January 2017, the GHS became mandatory in Australia, with the 7th revised edition of the GHS (GHS 7) becoming compulsory in early 2023.

Other global regions that have adopted the GHS include trading partners such as New Zealand, the European Union, the United States, Canda, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and more.

Is GHS Labelling Compulsory?

The GHS 7 is mandatory for all states and territories across Australia.

Any newly manufactured or imported hazardous workplace chemicals must be GHS 7 compliant. This means ensuring compliant GHS 7 labelling on primary and secondary packaging, as well as safety data sheets (SDS).

REMEMBER: In Australia, only GHS 7 can be used to label newly manufactured and imported hazardous chemicals. Manufacturers and importers must only use GHS 7 to classify and label hazardous chemicals, as well as create the Safety Data Sheets for the substances.

HELPFUL TIP: Think of GHS labels as the synopsis of a book, and safety data sheets as the actual contents of the book - the two work together, providing everyone with the complete picture on a chemical.

Which Hazardous Chemicals Need to Have GHS Labels?

GHS labelling is required for all chemicals deemed hazardous by the UN, either due to:

  1. Physical hazards
  2. Health hazards
  3. Environmental hazards

In the next section of our post, we’ve detailed the hazardous chemicals that require GHS labels (otherwise known as chemical hazard stickers) as categorised by their hazard.

Physical Hazards

Goods facilitating physical hazards include, but are not limited to;

  • Explosives
  • Flammable gases, liquids and solids
  • Oxidising gases, liquids and solids
  • Pyrophoric liquids and solids
  • Self-reactive substances or mixtures

Health Hazards

Materials are considered health hazards if they cause:

  • Acute toxicity
  • Skin corrosion
  • Skin/eye damage or irritation
  • Respiratory, organ, or reproductive toxicity
  • Mutation of cells
  • Carcinogenicity

Environmental Hazards

Chemicals are considered environmental hazards if they damage:

  • Aquatic environments
  • The ozone layer

Safe Work Australia has a hazardous chemical information system (HCIS) online where manufacturers, suppliers and users can search for information on hazardous chemicals. While it's not an exhaustive list, the database is a great starting point for determining if a chemical is hazardous, and for more information.

Key Considerations for GHS Labelling

While the labelling system for hazardous chemicals is vast and often complex, there are 3 key considerations to ensure that your staff understand, so they can be better protected from the hazards associated with these substances. In the next section, we’ll explain what is required on a GHS label and how you can understand the elements of a GHS label or Safety Data Sheet.

1. Understand the GHS label elements

The requirements for GHS labelling of chemicals are defined by the UN — and need to be strictly followed.

GHS labels need to include six key elements:

Hazard Symbols (or pictograms)

The GHS has a list of hazard symbols defined by the UN, which are used to identify different hazardous products. A GHS label needs a pictogram for all the different hazards which apply for that chemical.


Pictograms are visual representations of hazards, such as this pictogram which denotes a health hazard.

Signal word

The signal word is designed so people can quickly identify the severity of the hazard. The GHS has two signal words:

  • Danger: used for hazard categories 1 and 2
  • Warning: used for less severe hazards


Hazard Statement

A hazard statement is a predefined phrase designed to communicate the nature and degree of the hazard. Hazard statements can be found on WHS and on the chemical's SDS, and are classed with an 'H' code (e.g. H220: extremely flammable gas).

Precautionary statements (and/or pictograms)

A precautionary statement can again be found on the chemical's SDS and on WHS. These statements outline the recommended measures for preventing or reducing hazards, storing or disposing of the chemicals, or any response measures needed in case of exposure. These are classified using a 'P' code.

Product identifier

A product identifier is the product name or chemical name, which can be found on the SDS or online.

Manufacturing information

Every GHS label has to include the manufacturer's Australian company name, address, and business phone number.


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2. Label Both Primary and Secondary Chemical Containers

GHS labels need to be on any primary or secondary containers you store chemicals in, so it's important to understand the requirements for GHS labelling on both - outlined below.

Primary Containers

Primary containers are containers which are received directly from a manufacturer or supplier, including, but not limited to, barrels, drums, cans, cylinders, bags, or boxes. These primary containers must have all six GHS label elements defined by the UN (listed above).

Secondary Containers

Secondary containers are any containers that hold chemicals which have been transferred from a primary container (think spray bottles, smaller storage containers, jars, and so forth).

These also need to be compliant with GHS chemical label requirements, except if:

  • The chemicals are all used within the work shift of the person who made the transfer (i.e. not stored after the shift).
  • The person who made the transfer is in the area for the entire time the chemical is used, or the container stays in the same area, in the possession of the person who filled the secondary container.
  • GHS labels are also required for placarding for storage of hazardous chemicals, when relocating them to and from destinations.

3. Remember your Safety Data Sheets

Manufacturers or suppliers also need to provide a safety data sheet for each of the chemicals classed as hazardous by the Globally Harmonized System.

These essential chemical safety documents contain more detailed information on the chemical ingredients, hazards, flash points, handling and storage of the hazards, and any preventative or first-aid measures.

Safety data sheets need to have 16 sections, as listed below:

  • Identification of the product and chemical
  • Hazard(s) identification
  • Composition and information on ingredients
  • First aid measures
  • Firefighting measures
  • Accidental release measures
  • Handling and storage
  • Exposure controls/personal protection
  • Physical and chemical properties
  • Stability and reactivity
  • Toxicological information
  • Ecological information
  • Disposal considerations
  • Transport information
  • Regulatory information
  • Other relevant information

IMPORTANT: For more detailed information on what needs to be included in each section, visit the WHS website for your state or territory.

Chemical Labelling Requirements Australia

Making sure that your chemical containers, labels and SDS meet the requirements of GHS 7 is just one step in ensuring compliance for your operations. The correct and current chemical classification is necessary when identifying and controlling hazards in your workplace.

We highly recommend conducting regular chemical risk assessments, to make sure that you are continually meeting your safety and compliance obligations. To make things a little easier for you, we have created some helpful templates to assist with your next risk assessment. Download our free Hazard Risk Assessment Templates to track and audit your chemical labelling, storage and handling today.

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