GHS – New chemical labelling requirements

Over the next few years the familiar labels on chemicals and chemical based products are going to be changing as a result of new legislation on the labelling and packaging of hazardous substances.  In fact, some of the changes are already starting to happen ( although most of us probably haven’t noticed it yet). This is due to the European Union’s adoption of the United Nations “Globally harmonised system for the classification and labelling of chemicals”, better known as the GHS.
I recently pulled together a presentation on the GHS for our Diploma revision course, which can be viewed on Slideshare – but I’ve also embedded the slides below.
The UN GHS is not a formal treaty, but instead is a non-legally binding international agreement. Therefore countries (or trading blocks, like the European Union) must establish legislation for their jurisdiction in order to implement the UN GHS. It’s being implemented in the EU via the Regulation on Classification, Labelling and Packaging of Substances and Mixtures (known as the CLP Regulation). As a Regulation, it is directly acting in all EU Member States, requiring no national transposition. Its provisions will be phased in over a period of years until 1 June 2015 when the Regulation will be fully in force.
The new labelling requirements have some similarities, but a number of differences, to the those we’re used to in Europe. The main changes are summarised below:
  • Labels on the packaging of hazardous substances and preparations (i.e. mixtures of chemicals) will still have to show pictograms which summarise the key hazards, but they will look different.
  • New pictograms are introduced; Most of the symbols used are the same, although the familiar orange rectangles are being replaced by white diamonds with a red border. There are some new ones for gases under pressure and chronic health hazards such as cancer and respiratory sensitisation.
  • The St Andrews cross will be replaced by the new “exclamation mark symbol”. It will be applied to irritant substances and category 4 acute toxicity. However, some substances currently carrying the cross will have to show the new “skull and crossbones” symbol due to new rules on classification.
  • The familiar terms “very toxic” and “toxic” will no longer be used. Instead hazard categories are applied –the lower the category the more hazardous the material.The number of hazard categories varies depending on the hazard
  • New criteria are introduced for assigning the hazard class. This is likely to have some significant implications for suppliers as there are some significant differences between the system used under CHIP and the new CLP.
  • One of two signal words – “Warning” or “Danger” will have to be printed on the label. In effect they take the place of the CHIP hazard category statements (e.g. Toxic, Irritant, Corrosive etc.) Which signal word is used depends on the hazard category
  • CHIP R phrases are replaced by “hazard statements” and S phrases by “precautionary statements”
There are no plans to provided any guidance on CLP at UK level.The HSE refers chemical suppliers (and anyone else who want more information) to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) guidance available on their website.
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