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UN GHS - Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals

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Updated on 3 December 2015 by David Wan

The UN Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) is an international system created by the UN to address the classification of chemicals by types of hazard and harmonize hazard communication elements, including labels and safety data sheets. It aims at providing a basis for harmonization of rules and regulations on chemicals at national, regional and worldwide level, an important factor also for trade facilitation. GHS has been introduced to many countries/regions such as Europe, USA, China, Japan and Korea, etc via their own legislation or standards.

UN GHS comprises standards for:

  • Classification of chemicals based on their hazards;
  • Labeling requirements;
  • Safety Data Sheet Requirements;.

UN GHS is updated frequently and the latest version was the 9th revised edition released in 2021. Please click to know more information about the GHS 9th Revised Edition.


Classification

GHS classifies chemicals based on physical hazards, health hazards and environmental hazards. The latest edition of UN GHS contains criteria for the following classifications of hazards:

Physical Hazards

(17 Classifications)

1. Explosives, 2. Flammable Gases, 3. Aerosols, 4. Oxidizing Gases, 5. Gases under Pressure, 6. Flammable Liquids, 7. Flammable Solids, 8. Self-Reactive Substances and Mixtures, 9. Pyrophoric Liquids, 10. Pyrophoric Solids, 11. Self-Heating Substances and Mixtures, 12. Substances and Mixtures, which in contact with water, emit flammable gases, 13.Oxidizing Liquids, 14. Oxidizing Solids, 15. Organic Peroxides, 16. Corrosive to Metals, 17. Desensitized Explosives.

Health Hazards

(11 Classifications)

18. Acute Toxicity, 19. Skin Corrosion/Irritation, 20. Serious Eye Damage/Eye Irritation, 21. Respiratory sensitizer, 22. Skin Sensitizer, 23. Germ Cell Mutagenicity, 24. Carcinogenicity, 25. Toxic to Reproduction, 26. Specific Target Organ Toxicity Following Single Exposure, 27. Specific Target Organ Toxicity following Repeated Exposure, 28. Aspiration

Environmental Hazards

(2 Classifications)

29(a) Hazardous to the Aquatic Environment, Short-term (Acute), 29(b) Hazardous to the Aquatic Environment, Long-term (Chronic), 30. Hazardous to the Ozone Layer.

For example, the classification criteria for flammable liquids are listed as follows:

Hazard Category

Criteria

Hazard Statement Codes and Hazard Statement

1

Flash point<23℃ and initial boiling point≤35℃

H224 Extremely Flammable Liquid and Vapour

2

Flash point<23℃ and initial boiling point>35℃

H225 Highly Flammable Liquid and Vapour

3

Flash point ≥ 23℃ and ≤60℃

H226 Flammable Liquid and Vapour

4

Flash point > 60℃ and ≤93℃

H227 Combustible Liquid

After a chemical has been classified, standard hazard statements and codes will be assigned to describe the hazards of a hazardous product and the degree of hazard. The hazard statements will then be used in Safety Data Sheet and on the label.

 


Building Blocks

GHS provides the flexibility to allow countries to adopt the building blocks that they require to meet domestic requirements. There may be differences in categories adopted by different countries. However, the overall information such as label elements (pictograms, signal words, hazard and precautionary statements) are harmonized.

One example is listed as follows:

Hazard Class

UN GHS Rev.5&6 or China GHS

EU CLP or US HCS

Acute Toxicity

Category 1-5

Category 1-4

 


Labelling

A typical GHS label shall contain the following elements at least:

  • Product identifier;
  • Supplier identification;
  • Signal word;
  • Hazard pictogram (black symbol with a white background and red frame);
  • Hazard statements;
  • Precautionary statements;
  • Other additional information required by different authorities.

Notes:

  • In case of small and awkward packaging, some elements may be omitted.
  • For inner packaging, only GHS labels are required;
  • For outer packaging, transport marks and labels are usually required; Some authorities may also require GHS labels if there is no transport label;
  • For single packaging, transport label and hazard pictogram may appear on the same GHS label; In the event that transport label and GHS hazard pictogram represents the same hazard, GHS hazard pictogram can be omitted.

 


Safety Data Sheet (SDS)

Safety Data Sheet is very important hazard communication document to inform its audience of the hazards of a substance or mixture and provide information on the safe storage, handling and disposal of the substance or a mixture. GHS provides guidance on a SDS shall be prepared.

The information in SDSs should be presented in the following 16 headings:

  • Identification;
  • Hazard(s) identification;
  • Composition/information on Ingredients;
  • First-aid measures;
  • Fire-fighting measures;
  • Accidental release measures;
  • Handling and storage;
  • Exposure controls/personal protection;
  • Physical and chemical properties and safety characteristics;
  • Stability and reactivity;
  • Toxicological information;
  • Ecological information;
  • Disposal consideration;
  • Transport information;
  • Regulatory information;
  • Other information.

Usually, a SDS needs to be prepared in the official language of a destination country.


Transitional Period

Different countries have given different transitional periods for substances and mixtures. GHS compliant labels and SDS must be provided when the transition period is over. Some examples are listed as follows:

Countries/Regions

Effective Date

EU

June 1, 2015 (substances and mixtures)

Korea

Substances: Jul 1, 2010(MOEL), Jun 30, 2011(MOE);
Mixture: Jun 1, 2013(MOEL); Jun 30, 2013(MOE).

South Africa

3 years (2012) for substances

7 years (2016) for mixtures

Vietnam

March 30, 2014 (substances)

March 30, 2016 (mixtures)

Australia

December 31, 2017 (both substances and mixtures)

Singapore

by the end of 2010 (single substances)

by the end of 2012 (mixtures)

Indonesia

March 24, 2010 (substances)

December 31, 2016 (mixtures)

Thailand

March 12, 2013 (substances)

March 12, 2017 (mixtures)


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