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.
The Globally Harmonised System (GHS) 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. Here’s what it means for you.
Is GHS labelling compulsory?
As of the 1st of January 2017, any newly manufactured or imported hazardous workplace chemicals have to be GHS compliant, through labelling on primary and secondary packaging, as well as safety data sheets (SDS). 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.
Currently, the GHS is mandatory for all states across Australia, except VIC, WA, and ACT. Any hazardous goods that are already in the supply chain can continue to be used without needing to meet all the criteria for GHS labelling. Therefore, if you are still using chemicals that you purchased before 1st of January 2017, and they don’t meet the GHS labeling criteria, you will not be penalised.
Which hazardous chemicals need to have GHS labels?
GHS labelling is required for all chemicals deemed hazardous by the UN, either due to physical hazards, health hazards, or environmental hazards. We’ve detailed each of these below.
Goods facilitating physical hazards include, but are not limited to;
- Flammable gases, liquids and solids
- Oxidising gases, liquids and solids
- Pyrophoric liquids and solids
- Self-reactive substances or mixtures
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
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.
3 things to keep in mind for GHS labelling
1. Understand the GHS label elements
The requirements for GHS labelling of chemicals in the workplace have already been defined by the UN, and need to be followed strictly. GHS labels need to include six key elements - outlined below.
Hazard symbols (or pictograms).
The GHS has a list of hazard symbols defined by in 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.
GHS Flame Pictogram. Source: Safe Work Australia
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
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)
Precautionary statements 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.
A product identifier is the product name or chemical name, which can be found on the SDS or online.
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 are containers which are received directly from a manufacturer or supplier, including, but not limited to, barrels, drums, cans, cylinders, bags, or boxes. These have to have all six GHS label elements defined by the UN (listed above).
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 safety data sheets for all chemicals classed as hazardous by the GHS. These 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:
- 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
For more detailed information on what needs to be included in each section, visit the WHS website.
Download our free Hazard Risk Assessment Templates to track and audit your chemical labelling, storage and handling. Click the image below to get your copy.