In most Australian states, businesses involved with hazardous
chemicals must comply with the Globally Harmonised System of
Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) from 31 December
2016. 'Businesses' include manufacturers, suppliers,
importers and any person conducting a business or undertaking that
involves hazardous chemicals. 31 December 2016 may seem a long way
off, but businesses should begin the transition as soon as possible
to ensure compliance and avoid penalties.
The GHS was developed by the United Nations to harmonise rules
about classification and hazard communication in relation to
hazardous chemicals at a national, regional and worldwide level. It
applies substantially the same hazard communication throughout the
world, similar to the harmonised system for road signs. This makes
sense from a risk management perspective in avoiding differences in
hazard communication country by country, and from a commercial
perspective, in reducing the requirement for different wording and
images and the associated cost.
The GHS is being progressively implemented in 67 countries
including Australia, the United States, China, Japan, New Zealand
and the United Kingdom. In Australia, the GHS is implemented by the
Commonwealth and each state and territory (except the Australian
'Hazardous chemicals' include pure substances, their
dilute solutions and mixtures categorised as:
physical hazards, such as explosives and gases under
health hazards, such as carcinogenic and toxic chemicals
environmental hazards, such as chemicals hazardous to the ozone
Labels for hazardous chemicals must contain:
the relevant symbol for the hazard, imposed onto a
a signal word such as 'danger' or
a hazard statement that describes the nature of the hazard, for
example 'may cause cancer if inhaled'
a precautionary statement that describes the recommended
measures to minimise the hazard risk.
The specific symbol and wording depends on the chemical
classification. The GHS also sets out 16 minimum elements for
Safety Data Sheets (SDS).
Compliance with the GHS Alone: Is it Enough?
In Australia, the short answer is 'no'. Most Australian
jurisdictions impose additional requirements to the GHS.
The additional requirements include that:
the label must identify the ingredient that causes the
hazardous chemical to fall within certain listed hazard classes,
and the proportion of that ingredient to the rest of the
the label must contain any information about the hazard, first
aid and emergency procedures not included in the wording required
by the GHS.
The GHS does not contain any requirements for packing hazardous
chemicals. Most Australian jurisdictions require that:
the hazardous chemical must be packed in a container (in sound
the container must be made of material compatible with the
Classification and SDS
Most Australian jurisdictions have adopted a modified version of
the GHS classification regime and contain additional requirements
for an SDS.
We recommend that businesses conduct a GHS review of their
labelling and packaging for hazardous chemicals. If there is any
doubt about complying with the GHS, it is best to get advice early
rather than face possible prosecution as well as adverse publicity
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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