As of January 1, 2017, the system underpinning chemical risk assessments and communication in all OH&S and Safety Data Sheet (SDS), chemical labelling (and more) changed.

Now all workplace hazardous chemicals in NSW, ACT, QLD, SA, TAS, NT and Commonwealth systems must be classified and labelled according to the Globally Harmonised System for Classifying and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) under the Model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations. Its slightly different for Victoria, as it is expected that the classification, labelling and SDS under GHS will be effective from July 1, 2017.

chemical classifications Australia

The GHS is used to classify and communicate human health and eco-toxicological hazards using uniform terms and information on chemical labels, SDS and in risk assessments, and provides criteria for the classification of physical hazards (such as flammability), health hazards (such as carcinogenicity), and environmental hazards (such as aquatic toxicity).

Australia has adopted the third revised edition of the GHS under the model work health and safety laws. See the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe website for a copy.

Under this new system, manufacturers, importers, suppliers and users of hazardous chemicals have a legislative requirement to manage the risks associated with hazardous chemicals in the workplace, including ensuring the safe use, handling and storage of chemicals, as well as specific duties under the model Work Health and Safety Regulations. See the Model Code of Practice: Managing the risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace for additional information.

Developed by the United Nations, the GHS is currently also in use in Europe, UK and the USA. Australia has been transitioning toward this new system since its original adoption 2012 with a five-year transition period and following the adoption of the model Work Health and Safety Regulations. In Australia, the GHS framework is supported by other model Codes of Practice:

The system ensures users are provided with practical, reliable and easy-to-understand information on chemical hazards, and can take the appropriate preventive and protective measures for their health and safety.

According to Safe Work Australia, the GHS is expected to provide significant trade benefits to industry as well as improved health and safety outcomes by introducing internationally consistent assessment criteria, labels and SDS for hazardous chemicals and risk assessments.

The GHS changes the way in which information about the hazards of chemicals and any precautions necessary to ensure safe storage, handling and disposal, is conveyed to users of chemicals. The GHS uses pictograms, signal words, and hazard and precautionary statements (rather than risk and safety phrases as was previously the case) to communicate this information. Many SDS from the EU and USA already have migrated to hazard statements.

Interestingly and somewhat unfortunately, the GHS has omitted any specific hazard statements relating to risks to bees and soil organisms. These are substantial and critical omissions given the importance of both those issues to global food production and carbon mitigation.

While the GHS does not change duty of care relating to the management of hazardous chemicals in the workplace, it will require responsible persons to update their knowledge and their documents and processes to align with the new standards.

The GHS includes nine hazard pictograms which represent the physical, health and environmental hazards. These are: Explosives, Flammables, Oxidisers, Gasses under pressure, Corrosives, Acute toxicity, Environmental hazard, Harmful/irritant Harmful to ozone layer and Severe health hazards.

The GHS uses the signal words ‘danger’ and ‘warning’ to indicate the relative level of severity of any given hazard. ‘Danger’ is used for the more severe or significant hazards, while ‘warning’ is used for less severe hazards.

Hazard statements are assigned to a class and category that describes the nature of the hazards of a chemical, including, where appropriate, the degree of hazard. For example, the hazard statement ’Toxic if Swallowed’ is the hazard statement for Acute Toxicity Category 3 (Oral).

Precautionary statements describe the recommended measures that should be taken to minimise or prevent adverse effects resulting from exposure, or improper storage or handling of a hazardous chemical. The GHS  precautionary statements cover  prevention, response, storage and disposal.

Manufacturers, importers and suppliers of hazardous chemicals will be the most affected by the introduction of the GHS. From 1st January this year suppliers should only be accepting stock with GHS compliant labels. Suppliers will also need to have GHS compliant SDS available already.

End users of hazardous chemicals are not required to relabel or dispose of existing stock. Hazardous chemicals manufactured or imported after January 1, 2017 must be labelled according to GHS requirements.

Information on Australian classifications under GHS can be found in the  Hazardous Chemical Information System (HCIS) database of information on chemicals. The HCIS contains GHS classifications and labelling information for over 4,500 chemicals and a searchable database of workplace exposure standards.

The HCIS replaces the previous Hazardous Substance Information System (HSIS) database.