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Published: 17 December 2002


A new global system, that is able to protect people from the mismanagement of chemicals, classify them according to their hazard and create a labelling system based on pictograms universally understandable, has been adopted last week in Geneva. This system is now available for worldwide implementation.

Through the different steps from their production to their handling, transport and use, chemicals 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); the youngest, poorest and least educated are the most vulnerable.

To face this danger, Governments decided to harmonize existing communication systems on chemicals in order to develop a single, globally harmonized system to address classification of chemicals, labels, and safety data sheets. This was not a totally novel concept since harmonization of classification and labelling was already largely in place for physical hazards and acute toxicity in the transport sector, but had not been achieved in the workplace or consumer sectors. Moreover, transport requirements in countries were often not harmonized with those of other sectors in the same country.

The Globally Harmonized System for the Labelling and Classification of Chemicals was adopted last week by the UN Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods and the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (CETDG/GHS), an ECOSOC subsidiary body serviced by the UNECE secretariat, in Geneva after a decade of efforts and cooperation amongst a broad number of countries and organizations, notably the Committee, ILO and OECD under the umbrella of the Inter-Organization Programme for the Management of Chemicals (IOMC).

The international mandate that provided the impetus for this work was adopted in the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), as reflected in Agenda 21, para.19.27. In its Plan of Implementation (para. 22.(c)) adopted in Johannesburg on 4 September 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development encouraged countries to implement the new GHS as soon as possible with a view to having the system fully operational by 2008. Implementation has already started with pilot countries introducing the system in their national practices in different regions of the world.

The GHS text will be available as a UN publication in early 2003. The GHS system will be kept dynamic, and regularly revised and made more efficient as experience is gained in its implementation. While national or regional governments are the primary audiences for this document, it also contains sufficient context and guidance for those in industry who will ultimately be implementing the national requirements which will be introduced.

For further information, please contact :

Olivier Kervella

Chief, Dangerous Goods and Special Cargoes Section
UNECE Transport Division
Palais des Nations, office 418
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Tel: +41(0)22 917 24 56
Fax: + 41(0)22 917 00 39
E-mail: olivier.kervella@unece.org
Web site: http://www.unece.org/trans/danger/danger.htm

Ref: ECE/TRANS/02/07

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Information Unit

Palais des Nations, 

CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Tel.: +41 (0) 22 917 44 44

Fax: +41 (0) 22 917 05 05