The United Nations Globally Harmonised System (GHS) for classifying and labelling chemicals forms the basis for the global standardisation of existing national systems. This will eliminate differences between national regulations for transporting hazardous goods and handling hazardous substances. The aim is to facilitate trade in the global movement of goods.
New pictograms (diamond with a red border containing a black symbol on a white background) provide a pictorial hazard warning. Here is an overview of these new hazard symbols. Image files of the individual symbols can be found on the UN’s GHS pages.
The currently valid symbols on an orangey-yellow background will be replaced by these new symbols from the point the new system is introduced in the EU. For substances, it will become compulsory to use the GHS classification on 1 December 2010. The scheduled date for preparations (to be referred to as mixtures in future) is 1 June 2015. Until then, safety data sheets must include the classification based on the old and new systems (in Chapter 2). From the date the planned regulation comes into force, however, it is permitted to use the GHS labelling system but not a double label.
In addition to the pictograms, the potential hazard level is described by one of two possible signal words:
Some of the classification criteria applying in the EU to date will change, for example the LD50 limit for classifying a substance or preparation as "toxic". Consequently, there will be more toxic substances and preparations.
During the transitional period, the EU is providing some assistance with re-classification from the old to the new system in Annex VII of the Regulation. This translation table indicates simplified assignments between risk phrases and the new GHS classes and categories but it is not, of course, able to take changes to criteria into account. There are also some risk phrases for which such a simplified assignment is totally impossible. In addition, there are some physicochemical GHS hazard classes that have previously had no equivalent in legislation on hazardous substances.
Link to legislation on hazardous goods
The existing legislation on hazardous goods is already largely GHS-compliant (the additional labelling of properties that are hazardous to the environment comes into effect in 2009). Many GHS classification criteria come directly from the "Orange Book" that forms part of the legislation on hazardous goods. It is therefore possible to refer to existing transport classifications, especially for the physicochemical part of the re-classification, to obtain the appropriate hazard class and category. Consequently, the GHS converter also asks for the UN number and, if appropriate, the packing group, classification code (for gases) or type (for organic peroxides and self-reactive substances / mixtures). This information can be used to determine the primary hazard, the secondary hazards (in most cases) and, where appropriate, possible packing groups (i.e. the category as well).
A preliminary draft of the GHS Regulation was initially made available to those concerned and the relevant associations as part of an online consultation process in August 2006 (21 August to 21 October 2006). A draft EU regulation by the EU Commission for implementing the United Nations' GHS in the EU was available from 27 June 2007. This was then discussed by the responsible bodies.
On 3 September 2008, the EC GHS Regulation (also known as the CLP Regulation on Classification, Labelling and Packaging of Substances and Mixtures) was adopted by the EU Parliament. These texts make up the compromise package of 27 June 2008 resulting from a series of meetings between representatives of the EU Parliament, the Presidency and the Commission, which has now been adopted as is. On 28 November 2008, the Member States also gave their approval, and on 31 December 2008 the Regulation was published under number (EC) 1272/2008. 20 days after its publication, i.e. on 20 January 2009, the Regulation came into force and can now be used to classify and label chemicals.
GHS for beginners – ISSA posters
The "Dangerous Substances" working group within the Chemistry Section of the International Social Security Association (ISSA), in cooperation with BG Chemie’s Prevention Section, has prepared four posters based on the European draft regulation. These posters show the new hazard pictograms (poster CH 250) and a comparison of existing and future hazard communication in terms of both physical hazards (poster CH 252) and health risks (poster CH 251). Poster CH 253 shows a new label for methanol by way of an example, while other posters (CH 254, CH 255 and CH 256) indicate how transport classes and hazard labels are linked to the GHS classification.
The brochure published by the UBA (German Environmental Agency) entitled "Das neue Einstufungs- und Kennzeichnungssystem für Chemikalien nach GHS - kurz erklärt" [The New Classification and Labelling System for Chemicals in Line with GHS - a Brief Explanation] is intended for manufacturers, importers, downstream users and dealers of chemicals and for consumers and occupational safety specialists. It uses pictograms to explain the individual classification steps and the resultant labelling. Overview tables and a glossary make the information easier to understand.
The brochure can be downloaded from the UBA website.