Australia set to align with EU chemical standards

By Kylie Wilson-Field, Journalist
Thursday, 19 April, 2007

In Australia today, there is no national approach to the management and control of workplace hazardous chemicals. Codes and practices are governed by each state and territory, which makes it difficult to impose national occupational health and safety regulations on manufacturers and industry, according to the Australian Safety and Compensation Council (ACCC).

But the situation is set to change. On 15 March, the ACCC closed the door on public comment submissions from industry for a national standard and is currently sorting through close to 60 submissions.

Once completed, any issues raised during the comment period will be resolved in consultation with industry, unions and government through normal ASCC processes.

The proposed National OHS Standards for Managing Workplace Hazardous Chemicals will lay new obligations on industry and define a new approach to chemical control. The ASCC believes manufacturers, importers and downstream users will be prepared and fully aware of the impact this new legislation will have on their business and will want to comply with it.

The new workplace chemicals framework is based on the United Nation's Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling Chemicals (GHS). However, the GHS is designed for all sectors, including consumer chemicals. The EU system will have consistent classification and labelling across all sectors, including workplace and consumer chemicals.

In Australia, the agencies responsible for the classification and labelling of consumer chemicals in the health and agriculture portfolios are currently considering whether to change their system to give a nationally consistent approach across all Australian sectors.

Drew Wagner, assistant secretary in the standards and international branch division of the ASCC, believes the GHS provides a single internationally agreed system for the classification and labelling of chemicals.

"It also covers both health hazards and physicochemical hazards of chemicals," he says.

"Adoption of GHS into the Australian workplace chemicals framework provides a convenient means of aligning the currently separate regulatory frameworks for chemicals with health hazards with those of physicochemical hazards.

"At present, Australia has different regulations for hazardous substances and dangerous goods, however many chemicals are both hazardous and dangerous goods," he says, adding that in the past industry has said that this conflicting and inefficient duplication of regulations should be addressed to reduce costs and improve safety.

"The ASCC is aligning the regulatory frameworks to give a single system; however, the new proposal covers workplace chemicals only. It does not cover chemical classification or labelling for consumer chemicals."

Bill Scales, chair of the ASCC, suggests that aligning Australia's standards for classifying and labelling chemicals to those of a globally harmonised system would result in savings to Australian industry of $600 million per year.

"This is not to mention the reduction in injuries, disease and fatalities due to adoption of world's best practice in workplace chemical management.

"There is still a lot of work to do in finalising the Australian proposal. The ASCC will closely examine the final EU proposal when available, including their implementation timeframes, before the Australian documents are declared. The issue of transition timetables, to implement the changes in a cost-effective way, are still to be discussed at the ASCC level," he says.

"This is a unique opportunity to have world-class national standards and ensure that Australian employers and workers have access to the best possible information on chemical hazards. The standards and codes will, for the first time, align Australian standards internationally."

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