Product Safety Center

Globally Harmonized System (GHS)


The Globally Harmonized System was initiated at the UN Conference on the Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It aims, amongst other goals, to harmonize the classification and the hazard communication elements of chemicals (labeling and safety data sheets). The first version became available in 2003 in the form of the so called purple book (compared to the orange book for transportation). Regular updates should take place every 2 years. GHS harmonizes most classification criteria for supply and transportation and is based on the intrinsic properties of substances. GHS allows individual countries or regions to implement building blocks at their own discretion. The building blocks, however, may not be altered. Additionally there is room for Competent Authority Options and special limits for the communication of components in mixtures.

Reasons for the development of GHS

  • Growing international trade
  • Different requirements for labeling of chemicals
  • Different classifications of identical products in different countries
  • Requirement for an international safety standard

GHS Elements

Compared to the current EU system the most noticeable change are the pictograms (formerly: hazard symbols). While the most of the GHS pictograms have an equivalent in the old system, the pictograms GHS 04, GHS 07 and GHS 08 are completely new.

The GHS System is built on 16 physical, 10 health and 3 environmental hazard classes and comprises the following communication elements:

9 Pictograms

Hazard class and hazard category:
Exploding Bomb
Unstable explosives
Explosives of Divisions 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4
Self reactive substances and mixtures, Types A,B
Organic peroxides, Types A,B

Flammable gases, category 1
Flammable aerosols, categories 1,2
Flammable liquids, categories 1,2,3
Flammable solids, categories 1,2
Self-reactive substances and mixtures, Types B,C,D,E,F
Pyrophoric liquids, category 1
Pyrophoric solids, category 1
Self-heating substances and mixtures, categories 1,2
Substances and mixtures, which in contact with water,
emit flammable gases, categories 1,2,3
Organic peroxides, Types B,C,D,E,F

Flame Over Circle
Oxidizing gases, category 1
Oxidizing liquids, categories 1,2,3

Gas Cylinder
Gases under pressure:
- Compressed gases
- Liquefied gases
- Refrigerated liquefied gases 
- Dissolved gases

Corrosive to metals, category 1
Skin corrosion, categories 1A,1B,1C
Serious eye damage, category 1

Skull and Crossbones
Acute toxicity (oral, dermal, inhalation), categories 1,2,3

Exclamation Mark
Acute toxicity (oral, dermal, inhalation), category 4
Skin irritation, category 2
Eye irritation, category 2
Skin sensitisation, category 1
Specific Target Organ Toxicity – Single exposure, category 3

Health Hazard
Respiratory sensitization, category 1
Germ cell mutagenicity, categories 1A,1B,2
Carcinogenicity, categories 1A,1B,2
Reproductive toxicity, categories 1A,1B,2
Specific Target Organ Toxicity – Single exposure, categories 1,2
Specific Target Organ Toxicity – Repeated exposure, categories 1,2
Aspiration Hazard, category 1

Hazardous to the aquatic environment
- Acute hazard, category1
- Chronic hazard, categories 1,2


2 Signal words "Danger" or "Warning"

72 individual and 17 combined Hazard statements
- these are assigned a unique alphanumerical code which consists of one letter and three numbers as follows:

  1. the letter "H" (for "hazard statement");
  2. a number designating the type of hazard as follows:
    - "2" for physical hazards
    - "3" for health hazards
    - "4" for environmental hazards
  3. two numbers corresponding to the sequential numbering of hazards arising from the intrinsic properties of the substance or mixture, such as explosive properties (codes from 200 to 210), flammability (codes from 220 to 230), etc.

>>> Hazard statement overview

116 individual and 33 combined Precautionary statements – these are assigned a unique alphanumerical code which consists of one letter and three numbers as follows:

  1. the letter "P" (for "precautionary statement");
  2. one number designating the type of precautionary statement as follows: - "1" for general precautionary statements
    - "2" for prevention precautionary statements
    - "3" for response precautionary statements
    - "4" for storage precautionary statements
    - "5" for disposal precautionary statements
  3. two numbers (corresponding to the sequential numbering of precautionary statements)

>>> Precautionary statement overview

The (Material) Safety Data sheet

The Safety Data Sheet plays a prominent role in hazard communication according to the GHS. The document follows a 16 chapter format with the hazard information, including the labeling information, to be shown in section 2 (Hazard Identification). In the EU the requirement is to include both the old EU and the GHS classifications during a transition period that expires June 1, 2015. The US MSDS will show the GHS classification in section 2. APAC SDS’ will follow the local GHS rules, which require minor changes in various sections. Below you will find the updated section 2 of the EU GHS SDS for Acetonitrile.

Hazards Identification


GHS implementation plans of Sigma-Aldrich

A formal project to implement GHS at Sigma-Aldrich was started 2008. In anticipation of GHS an IS project was launched in 2006 that delivers enhanced functionality. It enables Sigma-Aldrich to comply with the GHS requirements despite the vast number of products that need to be reclassified. GHS Safety Data Sheets are in the process of being created and the first GHS labelled product will hit the market during the month of March 2010.

Implementation status and transition periods – timelines for selected countries

In the APAC area Japan, Taiwan and New Zealand implemented GHS and Korea has extended the transition period to 2010/11. The EU has adopted GHS in 2008, and it has be applied since January 20, 2009. The deadline for implementation is Dec 1, 2010 for neat substances and June 1, 2015 for mixtures. Major countries such as the US and China have not yet published any firm implementation schedule.

Country Critical Deadlines Enabling Laws and Regulations Key Web-Site
Australia Expected Implementation:
2010 for Substances,
for Mixtures
Brazil South American and MERCOSUR countries discussion ongoing

Expected Implementation: 2010 Transition: 2013 possibly
Canada Expected Implementation: 2009
(date looks doubtful)
China Expected Implementation: 2010

26 Classification standards published. Step by Step Implemen-tation. Will have a mandatory List
The National Standard GB/T16483-2008 (June 2008), Safety Data Sheet for Chemical Products, Content and Order of Sections, provides guidelines for preparing GHS-compliant SDSs for products shipped to China.
EU Implementation: 2009
Substance compliance:
December 1, 2010
Mixture compliance:
June 1, 2015
The CLP replaced earlier EU Directives, and officially incorporated GHS C&L criteria into existing law. The CLP Regulation will also enable certain provisions of REACH regarding the notification of classifications, and the creation of a classification and labelling inventory.
Hong Kong Expected Implementation: 2009 Expected Compliance: 2010    
India Expected Implementation: 2009 Expected Compliance: 2010    
Indonesia Implementation: February 2008 for pure substances only. Draft of Indonesian Presidential Regulation on GHS still pending for approval. Implementation date unknown Indonesia’s Decree of the Ministry of Industry No. 24/M- IND/PER/5/2006 regarding Control on Production and Usage of Industrial Dangerous Substance was enacted on May 9, 2006 in accordance With GHS.
Japan December 1, 2006
(classification and labelling (C&L) of ISHL list if present >1%); December 1, 2008 (for a material present in a compound <1%); January 1, 2011 (C&L of remaining 640 materials present <1%).
The Chemical Substances Control Law (CSCL) and the Industrial Safety and Health Law (ISHL) require registration of chemical products. Japan Industrial Standards (JIS) specify the requirements for Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs).
Malaysia Implementation: Exact date not know but possibly December 2010    
Mexico Possible GHS implementation: January 1, 2010, but nothing confirmed yet    
New Zealand Implementation: 2006 Compliance deadline: June 30, 2008
But labels (full GHS compliance) is not required until December 31, 2010
The Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act 1996 and Amendments provide the framework for GHS. The HSNO Act and related regulations control the import, manufacture or use (including disposal) of manufactured chemicals that have hazardous properties.
Philippines Expected Implementation: 2009 Expected Compliance: 2010    
Republic of Korea Implementation: November 13, 2008 – Dangerous Substances classified under DMSL
- July 2011, single chemical
- July 2013, mixture
- July 2010, single chemical
- July 2013, mixture

Grace period for mixtures may extended until December 31, 2014
Three different laws must be harmonized in the Republic of Korea under GHS: Toxic Chemicals Control Law (TCCL), which regulates toxic chemicals under the Ministry of Environment; Industrial Safety and Health Law (ISHL), which pertains to hazardous and or dangerous substances and is administered by the Ministry of Labour; and the Dangerous Substance Management Law (DSML), under which the National Emergency Management Agency regulates explosive, oxidizing, and flammable products. The public Notice Standard for Classification, Label and MSDS Preparation for Chemicals, effective since December 2006, describes the detailed requirements for implementing GHS.
Russian Federation Expected Implementation: 2010 Regulations require preparation of “Passport of Safety” in Russian, analogous to a Material Safety Data Sheet, and subsequent registration.
Singapore Manufactures & Suppliers: 2 years for single substances till end 2010; 4 years for mixtures till end 2012 End users: 3 years for single substances till end 2011; 5 years for mixtures till end 2013    
South Africa Regulation planned for 2008/9 – no update National Standard (GHS) (SANS 10334) was published in 2007-essentially implement- ing the UN GHS; Supplement with list reclassified substances due end 2008 – not yet aware of the list being published  
Taiwan Implementation: December 31, 2008 - SDSs and labelling GHS applies to all hazardous And Harmful substances specified in Attachment 1 of the rule Regulation of Hazard Communication on Hazardous and Harmful Substances (amended 10/17/2007).
USA   DOT/IMDG/ICAO adopted GHS class 3 & 6 criteria for transport in 2007 and GHS class 9 criteria for aquatic toxicity in 2009. OSHA likely to be another year CPSC is just beginning to investigate GHS implications for consumer products. US implementation likely to be staggered across all 4 agencies ranging between 2007 - 2012  
Thailand Implementation: December 2008 Compliance deadline: end 2009 for pure substances only. Expected compliance for mixtures: December 2011 – not all endpoints included at this time Classification and labelling requirements are reportedly in effect since 2008 for single substances, but only for physical hazards and some health and environmental hazards. Additional requirements will be phased in.  
Vietnam Implementation: January 2009 Transition to July 1, 2009 postponed – but final date unknown    


Useful Links

UN Web-Site: Status of implementation
UN Web-Site: english version
UN Web-Site: french version
UN Web-Site: spanish version
UN Web-Site: russian version
UN Web-Site: chinese version
UN Web-Site: arabic version
EU Web-Site: CLP-GHS

EU Web-Site: Questions & Answers on Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures

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