What You Need To Know: Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS)

Globallt Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals

Every day, consumers and workers are either exposed or interact with chemical substances but many are still unaware of its potential hazard. All the processes that chemicals go through, from production all the way to handling, transport and use, pose a threat to human health and the environment. In order to globally reduce the risk and universally elevate safety standards of chemical handling, the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) was established and have undergone several revisions to instill its clarity and uniformity across countries.

The GHS has endured a lot of revisions since its inception in 1983. According to The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the latest GHS revision, which was published in July 2017, still retains its fundamental aspects:

  1. Edited criteria to identify and categorize flammable gases within Category 1 (Physical Hazards)
  2. Changed definitions of some health hazard classes to make it easier to understand
  3. Provided guidance to extend the scope of coverage of section 14 (Transportation) of the Safety Data 4 Sheets regarding bulk cargoes transported though the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) no matter what its physical state is
  4. Revised and rationalized precautionary statements of Annex 3 (Codification of Hazard Statements, Codification and Use of Precautionary Statements and Examples of Precautionary Pictograms)
  5. A new example was added in Annex 7 (Examples of Arrangements of the GHS Label Elements) to address labelling of small packages with fold-out labels

Called the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), this is a standard that replaced the previous assortment of hazardous material classification and labelling schemes used all over the world. Hazard communication experts from all over the world created this standard from the previous major existing systems—OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) included—to make the “right to know” into “the right to understand”. This classification system teaches a common approach to make it easier for workers worldwide to understand and classify chemicals and hazard information.


GHS History

GHS was an idea even before the OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), which was issued in 1983. Today, GHS is fully or partially implemented in 67 countries. It was in 1992 when the GHS was formulated after the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development, held by United Nations, issues the creation of globally harmonized chemical classification and labelling system. Then, in 2002, countries were encouraged to adopt GHS by 2008. Fast forward to today, was the latest revisions mentioned earlier.

The new system’s aim is to make us understand the chemical hazards, thus helping to prevent accidents and injuries. In numbers, the GHS is expected to prevent 500 injuries and illnesses and 45 fatalities from people exposed to chemicals every year. The GHS will also help in improving international trade conditions for chemical manufacturers, lessen confusion, facilitate safety training, and instruct ways on how to safely handle chemicals.


GHS in the Philippines

In the Philippines, A GHS Multi-Sectoral Committee was established under the recommendation of during the 2nd APEC Chemical Dialogue in Malaysia in Sept 2004. In 2014, the GHS in the workforce was implemented in the Philippines through the “Guidelines for the Implementation of Global Harmonised System (GHS) in Chemical Safety Program in the Workplace”. The Guidelines for the Implementation of Global Harmonised System (GHS) in Chemical Safety Program in the Workplace was issued in the archipelago by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) on February 28, 2014 and was pushed by force on March 2014.

Meanwhile, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Environmental Management Bureau was able to release the DENR DAO Order no 2015-09 guidance manual. This manual is responsible for setting the chemical classification criteria and requirements into the format and content of SDSs and labels. However, The DENR follows a timetable on what guidelines to be released. The government body released GHS guidelines for substances subject to Chemical Control Orders (CCO) and substances on the Priority Chemicals List (PCL) last year, while the High Volume Toxic Chemicals for this year. Then, in 2018, Toxic Chemicals under the IATA and IMDF list of dangerous codes, while Mixtures will be released in 2019.


GHS in the Consumer Market

Local consumer labelling regulations in other countries may still take precedence over GHS.  The difficulty is encountered when producing multi-market labels, where in some cases, the information required under one country’s consumer regulations may not be compatible with the labelling requirements set by other countries. While GHS has been widely adopted as the main standard for chemical legislation, some countries still favour their current consumer regulations over the standards outlined in GHS.

For professionals, if you work for a company that is involved with consumer products, it is crucial that you are also aware of the local consumer labelling regulations and know the difference where local labelling takes precedence over the GHS.

For consumers, it is encouraged to be informed and educate oneself with the GHS and it is within a consumer’s rights to make enquiries regarding the chemical labelling of local consumer products with their deviations over GHS.


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