Safety Signs Blog

Countdown to the new GHS style of chemical labelling

23rd May 2012 | Warning Signs

Posted by Darren Joint

In the world of chemical labelling, 2011 was a big year.

During 2011, the UN’s worldwide standard for labelling will come into force in Britain for all hazardous substances. Although the labelling for hazardous mixtures does not necessarily have to change until June 2015, this initial change to hazardous substance labelling will dramatically affect anyone who is involved in the production and/or reselling of these products.

So how did we end up here?

Much of this change was brought about by inconsistencies from country to country:

Different Classifications

The first major area of concern relates to how each country classifies hazardous chemicals. An example of this being toxic substances: What one country considers toxic may not be classified toxic in another part of the world. With each country categorising them differently, real confusion and increased risks exist.

Different Labelling

Not only are there different hazard classifications from country to country, there are also different methods of communicating the nature of any hazardous chemical. As such, the hazard labelling and recorded information on its associated data sheet can differ greatly. This often means that hazard labels and datasheets that mean something in one country are barely recognised or comprehended in another.

These two areas were very much behind the UN’s decision to bring together experts from around the world. They established what is known as the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (or GHS to give it its more commonly used acronym). The aim of this is to have the same criteria for classifying and communicating chemicals around the world based on their health, environmental and physical hazards.

The result of the UN’s actions was that a formal treaty was agreed. Although this treaty is not legally binding, its success worldwide will be based on every country’s (or block of countries) willingness to participate. Despite other countries viewing this treaty differently, the European Commission established the CLP Regulations (to superceed the UK's CHIP or CHIP 4 regs) to ensure the good practice recommended is followed through by all EU member states.

In the UK it will mean that all our existing Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations 2009 (CHIP) symbols will change, as shown in the example below:

Explosive (CHIP) label IS REPLACED BY Explosive (CLP) label

Substances (and mixtures at a later date) will have red diamonds around the hazard pictograms. The GHS signal word will appear and the hazard and precautionary phrases will be used instead of risk and safety phrases.

Under the CLP Regs, the UK (like all other member states of the EU) must effect these changes by the dates shown below:
  • All hazardous substances should be classified from the 1st December 2010
  • Chemical mixtures should be classified no later than the 1st June 2015, although this date can be brought forward should companies involved so wish.

With initial deadline already long passed, these new hazard labels are something that anyone involved in hazardous substances will clearly need to understand and certainly act on.


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