Hazardous Chemicals and the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals

Dec 6, 2018 Posted by Walter Ingles

At the beginning of 2017 Australia joined 71 other countries and fully implemented the GHS or (also known as the) Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals into our chemical standards and safety legislation. This blog is a quick (and easy to understand) introduction to the GHS: what it is, and how it’s relevant to your business — because if your business uses, handles or stores any type of hazardous chemicals you have responsibilities under the GHS. Do you know yours?

NOTE: This blog is an introduction and overview of the GHS only, it will help you understand what it is, and how it affects your business. We’ll be unpacking the full labeling requirements of the GHS in future blogs. Look for updated links as we add the articles into the STOREMASTA Knowledge centre.

What is the GHS?

“A single, globally harmonised system to address classification of chemicals, labels, and safety data sheets.”

Chemicals are used all over the world to enrich our lives and make them easier. Paints, automotive lubricants, cleaning products, antiseptics, and LPG fuel gases are all chemicals that greatly improve lives everywhere — but they are each potentially dangerous in their own way.

And even though the same chemicals are being used in different countries throughout the world, they have often been treated differently because of different methods (and means) of testing and classification. For example a chemical might have been considered flammable in one country but not in another. Or in other cases considered carcinogenic (causing cancer) in some countries but were not in others.

So for more than 10 years the United Nations worked to create a single, global system to classify chemical hazards and create labels that would be used everywhere and understood no matter where you were in the world. This harmonised system would also include a standard format for safety data sheets (SDSs) and use easily understandable symbols (pictograms) and warning signs (placards).

The GHS is now a universally accepted system and it has standardised:

  • Physical Hazards (what makes a substance explosive, flammable, or toxic etc)

  • Health Hazards (what makes a chemical carcinogenic, irritating to the eyes, or fatal if swallowed etc)

  • Environmental Hazards (what makes a chemical acutely toxic to an aquatic environment)

  • Signage (official signage for hazard classes including nine easily recognisable symbols/pictograms)

  • Labels (official labeling that includes precautionary statements that describe how to prevent accidents or respond to accidental spillages; human exposure, storage requirements, and safe disposal of chemicals)

  • Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) (standardised format for safety data sheets including sixteen sections/headings eg, first aid measures, handling and storage, toxicology information)

Ultimately if every country in the world classifies their chemicals according to the GHS, both human health and the environment will be protected better. It particularly helps developing countries who don’t have the resources to develop their own chemical classification system.

How is the GHS relevant to my business?

Since January 2017 Australia adopted the full GHS classification system and it is now incorporated into the WHS Act and Regulation in your state or territory. So if your workplace uses, handles, or stores any hazardous chemical in any form, you will have chemical classification compliance obligations. You must ensure that all workplace hazardous chemicals are classified according to the GHS and their labels plus accompanying Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) also follow the GHS system.

IMPORTANT: “Classification is a process used to determine if a chemical can cause harm to human health and safety. It involves the identification and evaluation of the physical properties of a chemical, along with its health effects. It is the classification of a hazardous chemical that determines what information is communicated on the label and the Safety Data Sheet (SDS - previously known as Material Safety Data.”Sheet). SAFEWORK AUSTRALIA.

Next Steps

The best way of ensuring that your business meets the mandatory labeling and signage requirements of the GHS and the WHS Regulation in your state or territory is to conduct a full chemical safety audit at your workplace or jobsite.

This audit would include as a minimum:

  • Compiling a full list of the chemicals used and stored at the worksite and their locations

  • What signage, warning placards, and pictograms you have installed; where they are; and method of installation

  • Whether GHS compliant SDSs are available for each chemical held onsite

  • Review of relevant WHS Regulations, Codes of Practices and Australian Standards including the ADG Code.

If you don’t have the skills or resources to undertake a full audit of the hazardous chemicals at your worksite, why not get in touch with our professional audit and consulting team. With real-world industry experience and expertise in interpreting complex legislation and Standards, we’ll help you get your workplace fully compliant with the relevant standards and regulations. If you would like more information on how to manage the risks associated with hazardous chemicals, please feel free to download our free ebook by clicking on the image below.

How to manage the risk of hazardous chemicals in the workplace

Walter Ingles

Walter Ingles Compliance Specialist

Walter is STOREMASTA’s Dangerous Goods Adviser. He loves helping businesses reduce the risk that Dangerous Goods pose upon their employees, property and the environment through safe and compliant dangerous goods storage solutions.

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