Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS)
Chemicals, through the different steps from their production to their handling, transport and use, are a real danger for human health and the environment. People of any ages, from children to elderly, using many different languages and alphabets, belonging to various social conditions, including illiterates, are daily confronted to dangerous products (chemicals, pesticides, etc.)
To face this danger, and given the reality of the extensive global trade in chemicals and the need to develop national programs to ensure their safe use, transport and disposal, it was recognized that an internationally-harmonized approach to classification and labelling would provide the foundation for such programs. Once countries have consistent and appropriate information on the chemicals they import or produce in their own countries, the infrastructure to control chemical exposures and protect people and the environment can be established in a comprehensive manner.
The new system, which was called "Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS)", addresses classification of chemicals by types of hazard and proposes harmonized hazard communication elements, including labels and safety data sheets. It aims at ensuring that information on physical hazards and toxicity from chemicals be available in order to enhance the protection of human health and the environment during the handling, transport and use of these chemicals. The GHS also provides a basis for harmonization of rules and regulations on chemicals at national, regional and worldwide level, an important factor also for trade facilitation.
While governments, regional institutions and international organizations are the primary audiences for the GHS, it also contains sufficient context and guidance for those in industry who will ultimately be implementing the requirements which have been adopted.
The first edition of the GHS, which was intended to serve as the initial basis for the global implementation of the system, was adopted in December 2002 and published in 2003. Since then, the GHS has been updated, revised and improved every two years as needs arise and experience is gained in its implementation.
At its sixth session (14 December 2012), the Committee adopted a set of amendments to the fourth revised edition of the GHS which include, inter alia, a new test method for oxidizing solids, miscellaneous provisions intended to further clarify the criteria for some hazard classes (skin corrosion/irritation, severe eye damage/irritation, and aerosols) and to complement the information to be included in the Safety Data Sheet; revised and simplified classification and labelling summary tables; a new codification system for hazard pictograms, and revised and further rationalized precautionary statements.
The fifth revised edition of the GHS (GHS Rev.5), to be published in 2013 takes account of these amendments, which were circulated as document ST/SG/AC.10/40/Add.3.
The System is now ready for worldwide implementation. In its Plan of Implementation (para 22.(c)) adopted in Johannesburg on 4 September 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) encouraged countries to implement the new GHS as soon as possible. Information about the status of implementation of the GHS by country is available (in English only) here.