DGM Network

Since 1987 taking the danger out of dangerous goods

GHSThe Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) is a tool developed by the United Nations to standardize the classification and communication of risks inherent to chemical products, in order to prevent harm to human health or the environment, and to promote international trade.

The GHS contains guidelines on subjects such as the different hazards to health and the environment, testing methodologies, the preparation of Safety Data Sheets or labelling of products. Since its first edition in 2003, it has undergone 5 revisions, the latest in 2013. It is periodically updated every 2 years, so we should expect a new version in 2015.

As years pass by, the GHS is being incorporated into the national regulations of more and more countries. For example, in the European Union this was done with a specific legislation, the CLP (Classification, Labelling and Packaging) Regulation, that complements its previously adopted Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) Regulation. At the moment, 67 countries are on different stages of the process of implementation.

In order to achieve its objective of a harmonized communication of risks in chemical products, the GHS has developed a series of standard pictograms and phrases which will be used in labelling and SDS. These pictograms will be easily understandable in every country, by people of different ages or educational backgrounds, thus overcoming the language barrier.

Currently, nine pictograms have been established:

GHS pictograms

The attempts for harmonization have reached the main dangerous goods regulations, such as the International Maritimes Organization's IMDG Code or IATA's Dangerous Goods Regulations. An effort is being made to unify the classification criteria, and in the latest edition of the Dangerous Goods Regulations there's even an annex dedicated to explaining the GHS and the equivalence of its pictograms with the hazard classes.

However, the target of the GHS is not only comprised of national authorities; the guidance it provides can be useful as well for those in the industry of chemical products, and the transportation of dangerous goods in general.

Finally, it should be noted that the presence of these pictograms in a packaging can be interpreted as a clue that the product contained inside it may be considered to be dangerous goods and therefore regulated for transport, even if it's gone unnoticed by other agents in the shipping process. Recommendations on such matters have already been included as part of the text of IATA's Dangerous Goods Regulation in its 56th edition.

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