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Globally Harmonized System for the Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS)


A classification system for the shipping of dangerous goods, developed by the United Nations, that seeks to eliminate confusion arising from country-specific placard and labeling systems. It synthesizes existing standards into one consistent method used for air, ship, and road transport. It is non-binding and adaptable to each country’s needs.

After ten years of technical work and negotiation, a United Nations Economic and Social Council Subcommittee adopted the Globally Harmonized System for Classification and Labeling (“GHS”) and recommended that it be disseminated throughout the world. By promoting common, consistent criteria for classifying chemicals and developing compatible labeling and safety data sheets, the Globally Harmonized System is intended to enhance public health and environmental protection, as well as reduce barriers to trade. Countries lacking systems for hazard classification and labeling are to adopt the GHS as the fundamental basis for national policies for the sound management of chemicals; countries that already have systems will align them with GHS. There were many individuals involved, from a multitude of countries, international organizations, and stakeholder organizations. Their work spanned a wide range of expertise, from toxicology to fire protection, and ultimately required extensive goodwill and the willingness to compromise, in order to achieve this system. The purpose of the GHS is to promote common, consistent criteria for classifying chemicals according to their health, physical and environmental hazards, and to encourage the use of compatible hazard labels, material safety data sheets for workers, and other hazard communication information based on the resulting classifications.

The GHS document is available from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) website at: www.unece.org/trans/danger/publi/ghs/ghs_welcome_e.html.

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