Data Sheets / CLP/GHS Compliance

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All over the world there are different laws on classification of hazardous properties of chemicals and how information about these hazards is then passed to users, e.g through labels and safety data sheets.  This can be confusing because the same chemical can have different hazard descriptions in different countries.

In 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (known as the Earth Summit) met in Rio de Janeiro .  This was the largest environmental conference ever held, attracting over 30,000 people including more than 100 heads of states.

One particular agreement, concerning a commitment to sustainable development and agreed by many of the world's governments, provides a framework for tackling today’s social and environmental problems, including air pollution, deforestation, biodiversity loss, health, overpopulation, poverty, energy consumption, waste production and transport issues.  It addresses the development of societies and economies by focusing on the conservation and preservation of our environments and natural resources.  This agreement, known as ‘Agenda 21’,and the others that were made, covers every aspect of sustainable development deemed to be relevant.  They, and their guidelines, are still adhered to today and are influencing many political and business decisions.

One component of ‘Agenda 21’ is the Environmentally Sound Management Of Toxic Chemicals, Including Prevention Of Illegal International Traffic In Toxic And Dangerous Products.  It was acknowledged that a substantial use of chemicals is essential to meet the social and economic goals of the world community and today's best practice demonstrates that they can be used widely in a cost-effective manner and with a high degree of safety. 

Six programme areas to address the issue were proposed and one of these was the development of a system for harmonization of classification and labelling of chemicals.  It was agreed that a globally harmonised hazard classification and compatible labelling system, including material safety data sheets and easily understandable symbols, should be available, if feasible, by the year 2000.  This was not a totally novel concept since harmonisation of classification and labelling was already largely in place for physical hazards and acute toxicity in the transport sector.  International bodies, in co-operation with regional and national authorities that already had existing classification and labelling systems, were tasked to review the existing systems and elaborate a harmonized hazard classification and labelling system to be used for supply and transport.  This has become known as the UN GHS.

The 2000 target date passed but the 2002 UN World Summit on Sustainable Development, in Johannesburg , agreed that the GHS should be implemented worldwide and set the target date of 2008.  This commited countries to make the necessary laws to require suppliers of chemicals within their territories to adopt the UN GHS.

The UN GHS aims to ensure that information on the hazardous properties of chemicals is available throughout the world in order to enhance the protection of human health and the environment during the handling, transport and use of chemicals.

It provides the basis for harmonising regulations on chemicals at national, regional and worldwide level and the UN anticipates that, once fully implemented, the GHS will:

•  enhance the protection of human health and the environment by providing a system for hazard communication that is comprehensible throughout the world
•  provide a recognised framework for those countries without an existing system
•  reduce the need for testing and evaluation of chemicals (agreeing/harmonising classification will help to reduce the need for animal testing)
•  facilitate trade in chemicals whose hazards have been properly assessed and identified on an international basis

The UN GHS is not a formal treaty but, instead, is a non-legally binding international agreement.  Therefore countries (or trading blocks) must create local or national legislation to implement it.

Some countries and trading areas around the world, e.g. Japan , New Zealand , have already adopted the GHS and many others are working towards implementation.  Within the European Union, Member States asked the European Commission to prepare a proposal for a Regulation which would implement the UN GHS criteria in the EU.

At the time of writing (September 2008), the European Commission has accepted proposals for a Regulation on Classification, Labelling and Packaging of substances and mixtures (CLP).  This Regulation will be direct-acting, requiring no national transposition, and is expected to come into effect by the end of this year (2008).  Its provisions will be phased in over a period of seven and a half years and will require that single substances are classified in accordance with the GHS by 30th November 2010 and preparations/mixtures by 31st May 2015.

In Europe, legislation affecting classification and labelling of chemicals for supply was first introduced in 1967 (before the UK joined the Common Market) and has continually been refined and extended using the Dangerous Substances Directive (67/548/EEC) and the Dangerous Preparations Directive (1999/45/EC) and their amendments.  In the UK , these Directives are implemented by means of the CHIP Regulations(1) which introduced the hazard classification and information systems with which we are familiar.  

For suppliers of chemicals, they contain detailed information, usually based on physiological, toxicological and ecotoxicological data to enable any physicochemical, health and environmental hazards to be determined for a single substance or a preparation.  They also enable the appropriate Risk and Safety phrases to be selected. 


The methodology behind the GHS is similar but the ranges are, in some instances, different leading to a change in classification under this system.  There are also hazards which can be evaluated under CHIP but which are not yet incorporated into the GHS.  The GHS is automatically reviewed and revised every two years.

Under CHIP

Under CLP / GHS

6 Pictograms, black symbol on orange square

9 Pictograms, black symbol on white diamond with red border

8 Signal words

2 Signal words

Risk phrases

Hazard statements

Safety phrases

Precautionary statements

What differences are we going to see?

New symbols/pictograms on labels and safety data sheets

In addition to incorporation of existing symbols for explosive, oxidising, flammable, toxic, corrosive and dangerous for the environment, the GHS introduces three new pictograms described as ‘Exclamation Mark’, ‘Gas Cylinder’ and ‘Health Hazard’.    

The St Andrew’s cross to designate Harmful or Irritant will no longer be used.

•  Instead of the range of signal words that are currently used to describe a hazard, there will be only two – DANGER or WARNING.  There will also be levels of classification that use neither pictogram nor signal word.
•  Hazard Statements, as laid down in the GHS, will be used to describe the hazard/s of the material
•  Precautionary Statements (also laid down in the GHS) will provide information and guidance on safe handling, storage and disposal
•  Classification of a material may change in line with the GHS criteria defining hazardous properties

How can we prepare?

1.  Spread the word

Ensure that everyone who uses hazardous materials, whether in a laboratory, workshop, pilot plant, factory, etc. is familiar with the symbols, hazards and safety information.  This includes students, estates and maintenance staff and cleaners, amongst others.

2.  Obtain information

Ensure that suppliers provide accurate and up-to-date safety data sheets for their products.

3.  Address COSHH(2) and DSEAR(3)

Prepare to update COSHH and DSEAR assessments in the light of the GHS classifications and safety information provided.

4.  Communicate information of hazards and controls in the workplace

Prepare to replace posters, signage, internal hazard sheets, etc. used to remind people of the nature of the materials in the work they are undertaking(4)

Wider Effects

Within the European Union, the effects of the Classification, Labelling and Packaging Regulation on suppliers, manufacturers and service providers are going to be immense.  Software packages will have to be rewritten, electronic systems will have to be amended, labels will have to be replaced and everybody involved will have to spend time and effort in getting to grips with the new requirements.  On top of this, the Registration process, under the REACH Regulation(5), will gradually generate additional information about hazards, exposure scenarios and risk management measures for each substance, to be incorporated into safety data sheets in order to provide users with good-quality guidance on safety and control measures. 


1   Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations 
2  Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations
3  Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulation
4  Communicating Chemical Hazards in the Workplace’, IST Journal,  Autumn 2007
5  ‘REACH: Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals’, IST Journal, Spring 2008



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