From their production to their handling and during transport and use, chemicals represent a danger for human beings and the environment.
A number of countries and organizations have therefore developed laws or regulations that require information on these chemicals’ properties, which is to be transmitted to those using chemicals by labels or Safety Data Sheets (SDS). While these existing laws or regulations are similar in many respects around the globe, there are some differences that are significant enough to result in different labels or SDS for the same product in different countries and regions.
Given the reality of the extensive and increasing global trade in chemicals, the need for developing an internationally-harmonized approach to classification and labelling was identified at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED, 1992).
It was recognized that having an internationally-harmonised approach to classification and labelling would improve the consistency and the appropriateness of the information circulated on chemicals and ultimately enhance the protection of human health and the environment during the handling, transport and use of these chemicals.
This approach, called the "Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS)”, addresses the classification of chemicals based on the types of hazards posed by chemicals and proposes harmonised hazard communication including labels and safety data sheets.
In addition to the harmonisation of the various existing C&L systems and the rules for transport of dangerous goods, GHS also has the aim to serve as a harmonised basis for countries that do not yet have, but want to establish a classification, labelling and hazard communication system. To allow for gradual implementation of harmonisation in countries that already have an existing system, GHS uses a building block approach, in order to allow countries to decide up to which level they want to go and/ or allow countries or regions with existing systems to retain aspects that are not yet part of GHS.
The UN Committee of Experts for the Transport of Dangerous Goods and the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals formally adopted the GHS in December 2002. The first revised edition of the GHS was adopted in December 2004 and published in 2005. Since then, the GHS text has been updated every two years. It can be found here: http://www.unece.org/trans/danger/publi/ghs/ghs_welcome_e.html
Information about the status of implementation by country is available here: http://www.unece.org/trans/danger/publi/ghs/implementation_e.html
Last page update: 1 October 2018