GHS standards – what does it mean for me?

The GHS, or Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, is a new system developed by the United Nations for naming and labelling chemicals with their hazards which is being introduced globally. These are regulations which have been in transition from 2011 for full integration into chemical manufacturing and trade processes by Australia with compliance due by December 2016.

This system will provide consistency on the classification and labelling of all chemicals, and as a result will offer workers a better understanding on the safe handling and use of hazardous chemicals. The GHS has been implemented in Australia under the new Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011.

As part of the GHS, there are three key areas which will be impacted:

Hazard classification

The definitions of hazards now incorporates criteria for classifying health and physical hazards in addition to classification of mixtures.

Safety Data Sheets

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are now referred to as Safety Data Sheets (SDS) (as per the WHS Regulation 2011) and now follow a specific 16-section standardised format


Chemical manufacturers, importers and distributors will have to use labels incorporating a harmonized signal word, pictogram/s and hazard statement for each hazard class and category. Precautionary statements will also be required.

Chemical manufacturers responsible for the labelling of their chemical products will need to ensure the chemical labels will comply with the GHS standards. Depending on the type of industry and chemicals used, the appearance of label information will need to be updated to include updated DG (Dangerous Goods) information and visual information such as updated safety pictograms. In some cases the pictograms need to be two colours, being a red diamond with black print on the inside.

It's important to consider not only how these two-colour labels will be printed in-house, but also ensuring your labelling software will provide access to all the standard templates for GHS pictograms. Another important consideration is the label material and ensuring it is fit for purpose and complies with the relevant chemicals in the market.

In essence, the revised standard requires that information about chemical hazards is conveyed on the label with easy to understand visual references to provide immediate recognition of the hazard, and an understanding of how to handle the chemical safely.

If you are going to be affected by the GHS and need assistance on compliance with these standards, or for information on compatible label materials and label printing options, please contact our team on 1300 467 446.

An example of a GHS-compliant label, provided by BASF Australia.