United Nations harmonisation of chemical classification and labelling

Friday, 19 October, 2007

Members from 26 countries took part in discussions on the Globally Harmonised System (GHS) for the classification and labelling of chemicals in July 2007 in Geneva, along with observers from a further 11 countries and representatives from 22 inter-governmental or non-governmental organisations. Drew Wagner of the Office of the Australian Safety and Compensation Council (ASCC) led the Australian delegation to the meeting.

The meeting considered the issue of implementation of the GHS (which is a non-binding international treaty) in different member countries and regions. Australia presented a paper on issues relating to implementation of the GHS, particularly relating to transition processes (how to move from existing systems to a revised system based on the GHS), training (how industry and regulators can ensure that employers and workers are informed of any changes in the future) and implementation in sectors with risk-based labelling (such as for pesticides and consumer chemicals). The Australian paper generated a considerable amount of comment and discussion between the Australian delegation and delegates from countries with similar issues (such as the UK, US, Canada and Thailand). South Africa also presented a paper with similar issues relating to implementation in that country.

It was agreed that Australia would lead the development of a formal paper for the 14th GHS meeting in December 2007 to discuss these issues further and engage the sub-committee in addressing some of the issues. These discussions will be useful for the ASCC, as the proposed revisions to the classification and hazard communication elements of the ASCC workplace hazardous chemicals framework is based on the GHS. Further information on the revision of the Australian workplace chemicals framework can be found at: www.ascc.gov.au/ascc/HealthSafety/HazardsSafetyIssues/HazardousSubstances/.

At the meeting, representatives from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) reported on surveys conducted recently among developed countries and developing countries/economies in transition, respectively, relating to GHS implementation. The OECD reported that most countries intended to implement the GHS in four main sectors (transport, industry and workplace, consumer products, and agriculture and pesticides) through legally binding instruments. The representative of UNITAR noted that most non-OECD countries had already started the implementation of the GHS and that the main obstacles identified to achieving its implementation were the lack of resources and capacity and the lack of awareness.

The outcomes of this workshop will be presented to the 14th meeting of the sub-committee in December 2007.

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