Globally Harmonised System of classification and labelling of chemicals


The Globally Harmonised System of classification and labelling of chemicals (GHS) is an entity developed under the guidance of the UN. The system categorises chemicals (substances and preparations) based on their internal properties, and uses standardised hazard notification elements which contain both labels and safety data sheets.

The GHS system provides information about the physio-chemical properties of substances and the dangers the substances pose to human health and the environment. This serves to promote the safe transport, handling and use of chemicals. The GHS system provides an opportunity to harmonise chemical regulations worldwide and thus to facilitate trade. The system covers both the packaging for transporting chemicals as well as the packaging for the use of the chemicals, and the system is continuously being developed. The content of the system is based on earlier classification and labelling systems. In Europe, the GHS system was implemented by the European Council and regulation 1272/2008 of the European Parliament (on Classification, Labelling and Packaging of substances and mixtures), also referred to as the CLP regulation. The regulation came into force at the start of 2009 and the labelling system it describes is shown below.

The hazard pictograms also include different kinds of risk and safety phrases and comments. Following the CLP regulation (1272/2008), the old R and S phrases have been removed. In the same way as the old R and S phrases, the new phrases, and the combinations of them, describe the risk posed using ‘hazard statements’ and also provide ‘precautionary statements’ on how to safely use the substances as well as other safety-related comments on matters such as emergency procedures, storage, and handling of waste. Further information on hazardous properties, such as physical properties or environmental and health-related impacts, can also be provided with separate ‘supplemental hazard information’ (EUH). Below are several examples of these new phrases:


Flammable liquid and vapour


Harmful if inhaled


Keep out of reach of children


Avoid contact during pregnancy/while nursing


Reacts violently with water


Contact with acids liberates toxic gas


The text connected with the old hazard pictograms, such as ‘Poisonous’ or ‘Flammable’, have been removed. A new element that has been added to the labels is the signal word. The signal word ‘Danger’ warns of serious risks and the signal word ‘Warning’ indicates less serious risks.

Old chemical labels

Before the introduction of the GHS system, hazardous chemicals were classified into groups according to the Chemicals Decree (675/1993). These groups described the hazardous properties of the chemicals and the seriousness of the hazard (Ministry of Social Affairs and Health Decree on chemical classification principles and labelling 807/2001, referred to as the ‘Classification Principles Decree’). The classification was indicated on the chemical’s packaging using hazard pictograms and associated codes (figure 2), as well as standard phrases describing the hazard (R phrases). The Classification Principles Decree also defined the S phrases, which provided information on safety procedures and were printed on the chemical packaging. These labels were phased out on 1 June 2015, but they can still be found on old chemical containers.

Road transport

When transporting hazardous substances by road, the substances must always be labelled with the appropriate hazardous substance transport code (VAK code, figure 3). The codes are similar to those used for chemical hazard pictograms.

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