Hazardous Chemicals and GHS Labels

Date Posted:12 May 2022 

Hazardous Chemicals and GHS Labels main image Hazardous Chemicals and GHS Labels image

The Globally Harmonised System of Classifications and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) is an international standard that was created by the United Nations with the purpose of classifying and labelling chemicals. The GHS utilises standardised hazard statements, pictographs, signal words and precautionary statements to identify chemical hazards and other dangerous goods that pose chemical/ physical risk, health risk, or environmental risk.

In Australia, GHS labels are required for substances, mixtures or articles that are classified as a hazardous chemical according to the WHS Regulations. This includes agricultural and veterinary (agvet) chemicals if the chemical is listed within the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Act 1994 and is listed in the Poison Standard of Schedule 4 or 8. All chemicals used within laboratories must also be labelled according to GHS.

Household goods or makeup products, even if toxic or harmful, do not need to be labelled according to the GHS classifications. Additionally, any products that are fit for human consumption do not require GHS labels, including scheduled medicines and controlled drugs. However, large containers of flammable alcoholic spirits within workplaces must be labelled to comply with WHS standards.

If your workplace has potentially hazardous objects or substances that are not categorised as hazardous chemicals, explore our range of printed thermal labels.


Applying a GHS Compliant Label

There are numerous standards and procedures regarding the application and use of a GHS compliant label.

GHS labels must be written in English and be firmly fixed to the container. It should not be hidden (i.e. underneath the container) or be attached to something that can easily be removed (i.e. the lid). There are also minimum GHS label size requirements, as specified by the ADG Code.

GHS labels are only required for products that are in use. Chemicals that are either in storage or in transport are only required to contain dangerous goods labels.  However, as soon as a hazardous chemical is transferred from a storage facility into a workplace or laboratory, it must immediately be assigned a GHS compliant label.

If a hazard has been transferred from its primary container into a secondary container (such as a bucket, jar, drum, or bottle), the secondary container must also be labelled according to GHS specifications. However, there are three specific situations where a secondary container does not need to be labelled, as outlined below:

  1. The secondary container is used within the work shift of the person who made the transfer.
  2. The person who made the transfer is within the work space during the entire time that the product is used
  3. The container stays within the possession and area of the individual who made the transfer.


GHS Label Elements

Consistency is the cornerstone of the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). Certifying that each GHS compliant label follows the same design requirements ensures that individuals easily recognise potential dangers and act accordingly.

In order to be compliant, these six GHS label elements must be included within the label:

  1. Product Identifier: The hazard must be clearly identified by name.
  2. Signal Word: The signal word must communicate the hazard level. There are two different hazard levels, ‘danger’ and ‘warning’. ‘Danger’ is reserved for the highest level of severity, while ‘warning’ is used for hazards that are comparatively less severe. 
  3. Hazard Statement (s): The hazard statement(s) should be consistent with the hazard’s chemical classification and the degree of hazard posed.
  4. Precautionary Statements: Precautionary statements must include the relevant preventive, response/ first aid, storage and disposal measures to ensure safe handling.
  5. Supplier Identification: The label must contain the supplier’s or importer’s name, Australian address, and contact details.
  6. Pictograms: A GHS label must contain a clear pictogram that efficiently communicates the type and severity of the hazard. This pictogram will be recognisable by the red diamond border.

There are 9 different pictograms, each communicating a different risk. If more than one of the pictograms is applicable, the container may contain multiple hazard pictograms. The 9 different pictograms represent the following hazards:

  1. Oxidisers
  2. Acutely toxic (severe/ fatal)
  3. Flammables, self reactives, pyrophorics, self-heating, emits flammable gas, organic peroxides
  4. Explosives, self reactives, organic peroxides
  5. Burns skin, corrosive to metals, damages eyes
  6. Gases under pressure
  7. Carcinogen, respiratory sensitiser, reproductive toxicity, target organ toxicity, mutagenicity aspiration toxicity
  8. Toxic to aquatic environment
  9. Acutely toxic (harmful), irritant to skin, eyes or respiratory tract, skin sensitiser, hazardous to the ozone layer

If the hazard has an expiry date, this must also be communicated on the label.


Transition from GHS 5 to GHS 7

On 1 January 2021, Australia adopted the revised 7th edition of GHS. From 1 January 2023, all GHS labels must conform with GHS 7. During the transition period, individuals and organisations may use any GHS edition, but they should ensure cohesion by not combining GHS label elements from different standards.

Several key changes are introduced to GHS 7, including:

  • The addition of a new hazard classification for ‘desensitised explosives’. This classification is to be used for liquid or solid explosive substances that have either been wetted with alcohol or water, or diluted with another substance to form a solid or liquid mixture that suppresses the substance’s explosive properties.
  • Other amendments to the classification criteria for flammable gases. 
  • Updated precautionary statements that provide greater transparency
  • Greater flexibility in regards to the use and wording of precautionary statements


The Safety Data Sheet (SDS)

Even though the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) is not included within GHS labels, it still forms an important part of ensuring GHS compliance. An SDS offers a central source for information and safety measures relating to a hazardous chemical. The GHS has regulations to ensure a streamlined approach to the content and format of an SDS. An SDS will include information and product-specific requirements regarding the hazard’s transport, disposal, stability and reactivity, handling and storage, composition and toxicology.

Typically, an SDS will be emailed to the receiver of the chemical, or can be found on the manufacturer’s website.


Custom GHS Labels

GHS labels are necessary to ensure clear and consistent communication to employees regarding the safe handling of hazardous chemicals. If you work in a laboratory or another environment that deals with hazardous chemicals, then it’s important that you follow WHS regulations by complying with GHS standards.

We supply custom GHS labels that can be easily tailored to include relevant text and any of the 9 different pictograms listed above. Our thermal labels are specifically designed for durability and long-lasting use, making them reliable for effectively and clearly alerting employees of workplace hazards. Ensure proper compliance and protect your employees in the workplace by clearly and correctly labelling hazardous chemicals with our custom GHS labels.

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