Chemicals and the GHS – don’t be left behind

A new international system of chemical classification and labelling is on the way and it will affect anyone in Australia who manufactures, buys, sells or uses hazardous chemicals – is this you?

If you work with hazardous chemicals you need to get on board now with changes that will be in force by December 31 2016.

The GHS stands for the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. It replaces the current Approved Criteria for Classifying Hazardous Substances and the Australian code for their labelling.

The changes affect the way information on chemicals is communicated.

Craig Day, a farmer, contract sprayer, and trainer for chemical accreditation, believes better information will help him avoid exposure to the chemicals he works with.

Craig says he is ready for the transition and in fact has already devised a strategy to both educate his students and to help steer his business through the transition period.

‘I knew it was coming and I hope it will tighten up the rules and close the gaps in the current labelling system,’ said Craig.

‘I’m hoping that there’s a clearer link between what’s on the label and the safety data sheet (SDS); that the info on the new labels picks up some of the hazards that are buried in the SDS.’

Both labels and the SDS will look different and are expected to communicate hazard information better, to a broader audience.

Agriculture and veterinary chemicals will still need approval by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA).

However, the addition of GHS Hazard Statements to these labels will complement the APVMA risk assessment process and improve hazard communication for all users.

The United Nations initiated the GHS for this reason, as a way to standardise hazard communication across countries.

Did you know?
Over 65 countries have adopted or are in the process of adopting the GHS.

You will not only see changes to classifications of the chemicals themselves, but to the language and organisation of labels and the SDS with new signal words, hazard statements and precautionary statements.

Perhaps the most noticeable change will be the pictograms.

There are now nine diamonds surrounded by a red border, with two new symbols for those that affect human health and one for environmental hazards.

The GHS labels will advise you on how to safely handle, dispose of and store these products.

‘It’s sobering to get someone to sit down and read the SDS on these chemicals. They have to know a range of different information in case of a spill and most of my student’s reactions are, ‘I didn’t know it was really that toxic’,’ said Craig.

Craig worries about chronic health issues and believes better information can help raise awareness about handling.

‘There are plenty of people in the rural environment who suffer from long latency illnesses.

‘We hear about bladder cancer and clusters and I know plenty of people who have had eye injuries from not wearing the right protection.

‘I do wonder why so many in the rural environment suffer Parkinson’s disease and of course the organophosphates story is one that worries me. Not many people get the annual health checks done. People’s awareness is quite low.’

The new language used is simpler and more direct, and provides information that will protect chemical users and their environment.

Did you know?
The GHS was developed over ten years by a number of international experts in areas ranging from toxicology to fire protection.

The GHS is hazard based rather than risk based and aims to regulate hazardous chemicals throughout their whole life cycle.

That is, from the point of manufacture through to safe use and environmentally acceptable disposal.

Craig said his plan of action involves taking an inventory of his stock and said he if he can purchase GHS compliant goods now it will help him to avoid re-labelling later.

‘We will run down our supply in the interim, finish what we can, and then we will look at our register and re-print our SDS and labels.

‘That way when we receive new supplies we’ve changed over and have the right SDS and register to go with it.

‘I anticipate that companies preparing next years’ cropping chemical now are also implementing the new labelling system – at least they should be at this stage.’

If you are a chemical manufacturer or supplier, or you work with hazardous chemicals, you should:

  • identify deadlines
  • conduct an inventory
  • assess your readiness
  • implement your transition plan.

Remember, any new stock you buy from 1 January 2017 must be GHS compliant (both labels and SDS). Check with your manufacturer or supplier if they are carrying GHS compliant stock before you place an order, especially for larger purchases you order now.

For more information on the GHS visit

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