Globally harmonised system (GHS)

Globally harmonised system of classification and labelling of chemicals

The globally harmonised systems (or GHS) of classification and labelling of chemicals uses internationally consistent terms and information on chemical labels and safety data sheets.

The Northern Territory, like the rest of Australia, adopted version 3 of the GHS (GHS 3).

What are the changes under the GHS?

The GHS affect the way chemicals are classified and how information is communicated in the following way:

Pictograms - Nine standard pictograms are used to classify chemicals.

Signal words - Either one of two signal words (Warning or Danger) are used to describe the hazard level associated with each chemical

Hazard statements - A standard set of hazard statements describes the chemical's main health effects in easy to understand terms.

Precautionary statements - These statements provide information on how to avoid or minimise risks of chemical exposure and the information is separated into the following five categories: prevention, response, storage, disposal and general.

Safety data sheets - Safety data sheets are formatted using 16 standardised headings with information such as health effects, first aid measures and required controls to minimise exposure.

Transition period

On 1 January 2021, an updated version of the GHS will begin with a two-year transition to the 7th revised edition of the GHS (GHS 7) Australia wide.

During the transition, manufacturers and importers can use either GHS 3 or GHS 7 to prepare classifications, labels and SDS for hazardous chemicals. From 1 January 2023, manufacturers and importers must only use GHS 7.

During the transition, suppliers and users of hazardous chemicals may continue to supply and use chemicals classified and labelled under GHS 3.

This means chemicals manufactured or imported before 1 January 2023 can continue to be supplied and used indefinitely without needing to reclassified or relabelled in accordance with GHS 7.

From 1 January 2023, suppliers should only accept stock which is classified and labelled in accordance with GHS 7 and has SDS prepared in accordance with GHS 7.

However, suppliers and users of hazardous chemicals should not supply or receive stock manufactured or imported after 31 December 2022 if it does not have up-to-date labels or SDS under GHS 7.

The two-year transition period will:

  • allow time for manufacturers and importers to prepare new classifications, labels and SDS for their hazardous chemicals,
  • keep Australia in line with our key chemical trading partners, who are also adopting GHS 7, and
  • ensure classifications, labels and SDS are based on the most up-to-date system of classification and hazard communication.

What's new in GHS 7?

GHS 7 introduces several changes to classification, labelling and SDS requirements for workplace hazardous chemicals. The key changes between GHS 3 and GHS 7 are:

In addition to these changes, the definition of ‘hazardous chemical’ will be clarified to ensure it captures all Category 2 eye irritants. Chemicals can be further sub-categorised as Category 2A and 2B, but this is not mandatory in Australia.

  • new hazard categories and classes for:
    • desensitised explosives
    • pyrophoric gases
    • chemically unstable gases
    • non-flammable aerosols
  • updated precautionary statements.

In addition to these changes, the definition of ‘hazardous chemical’ will be clarified to ensure it captures all Category 2 eye irritants. Chemicals can be further sub-categorised as Category 2A and 2B, but this is not mandatory in Australia.

End users

End users can continue to store, handle and use non GHS labelled products that are already in the workplace until the products are used up.

Veterinary chemical products

The Regulations were amended in 2017 to exclude veterinary chemicals listed on Schedule 4 or 8 of the Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Medicines and Poisons. Importers, manufacturers and suppliers do not have to comply with GHS labelling requirements provided the product in question is packaged and supplied in a form consistent with direct administration to animals.

Transport of dangerous goods

GHS labelling and classification does not replace the requirements under the Australian Dangerous Goods Code for the transportation of hazardous chemicals.

  • This Safe Work Australia webinar has information for businesses about Australia’s two-year transition from the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals Revision 3 (GHS 3) to Revision 7 (GHS 7) that began on 1 January 2021.