HSE: Frequently Asked Questions

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1 HSE: Frequently Asked Questions Q1 - What is GHS? A GHS refers to the United Nations (UN) Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. The UN published GHS in its publication known as the Purple Book. It is available on the following website ( Q2 - Why did the United Nations draw up GHS? A All over the world there are different laws that control how chemicals are described and labelled. This can be confusing because one chemical can have different descriptions in different countries. For example, a chemical can be labelled as flammable in one country, but not in another. In 1992, at the UN conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), world leaders identified harmonisation of classification and labelling of chemicals as part of their action programme. In 2002, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, the UN encouraged countries to adopt the GHS and establish an operational system by The United Nations brought experts from different countries together to develop the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). The aim was to have, worldwide, the same - Criteria for classifying chemicals according to their health, environmental and physical hazards, and, - Hazard communication requirements for labelling and safety data sheets. So GHS will help industry by simplifying the worldwide classification and labelling systems, by reducing compliance costs associated with the numerous current systems, and by facilitating international trade. GHS will also help users by ensuring more consistent hazard communication, and better health, safety and environmental protection. Finally, GHS will help regulators (and industry and users) by ensuring an improved information flow up and down the chemical supply chain. Q3 - Who will be affected by GHS? A GHS will mainly affect chemical suppliers, manufacturers, users as well as testing laboratories. 1

2 Q4 - Is GHS legally binding on UN member states, including the UK? A No. The UN GHS proposal is not a Treaty and is not legally binding Q5 - So, what does this have to do with the UK? A Member states of the European Union, including of course the UK, already apply the well established and understood European classification and labelling system through the Dangerous Substances Directive (67/548/EEC); the Dangerous Preparations Directive (1999/45/EC); and the Safety Data Sheets Directive (91/155/EEC). Member states asked the European Commission to explore how best to implement GHS throughout all EU member states. The European Commission has developed a proposal to replace the existing European classification system with the GHS. Q6 - What is the European Commission doing now? A On 21 August 2006 the European Commission launched a two month Internet consultation on a draft Regulation that will bring the UN GHS agreement into legal force in all EU member states, including the UK. It is currently proposed that the GHS Regulation will come into force at the same time as most of the provisions of the new chemical Regulation REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals), i.e. in spring Following the Internet consultation the European Commission intends to publish a formal proposal for negotiating in the European Council and the European Parliament. Q7 - Who will negotiate on behalf of the UK? A The Health and Safety Executive will lead for the UK Government in negotiations on the GHS proposal. Q8 - What does a European Regulation on GHS mean for the UK? A If the proposed European Regulation on GHS is adopted, it will become direct-acting an all EU member states, including the UK. This means that the Regulation will be applied directly on member states. Member states 2

3 will not need to introduce legislation to implement the legislation in the UK, as is the case for EU Directives, although they will have to make the necessary legal arrangements for enforcement. An example of a recent European Regulation is REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals). The GHS Regulation will go through a similar process. Q9 - What will happen to the CHIP Regulations when the GHS Regulation comes into force? A The Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations 2002 (or CHIP ), implement in the UK the EU Dangerous Substances Directive, the EU Dangerous Preparations Directive, and the EU Directive on Safety Data Sheets. This family of Directives govern the classification, labelling and hazard communication of hazardous chemicals in the European Union. When the GHS Regulation enters into force, it will establish transitional measures in which the new GHS will progressively replace the existing EU arrangements for classification and labelling, first for substances, and then for preparations (referred to as mixtures in GHS). These transitional arrangements are likely to last for several years. At the end of the transitional period, the CHIP regulations will be switched off with the legal duties on chemical suppliers being imposed through the GHS Regulations rather than national legislation such as CHIP. The detail of the changes to CHIP and when they will happen will not be clear until the GHS Regulation is agreed together with the timing of its entry into force. But, CHIP will change, and everything will be fully repealed. Q10 - How does GHS differ from the present EU classification and labelling system? A Actually, GHS has many similarities to the present classification and labelling system in force in EU member states, including the UK. Both are hazard based; both apply to substances and preparations (referred to as mixtures in GHS); both deal with physical, health and environmental hazards existing in chemicals; both require suppliers to classify and label on the basis of existing available data; both classify chemicals; both require chemicals to be labelled (if supplied in a package); and finally, both require safety data sheets to be supplied to professional users. 3

4 But, there are some differences. GHS applies not only to the supply of chemicals, but also the transportation of chemicals. GHS is even more hazard based than the present system. It also introduces new pictograms (or symbols). If all the available classes and categories of hazard are adopted by the European Commission, more substances and mixtures will be classified than is the case under the existing system. GHS also offers some new terminology such as signal word, hazard statement, and hazard class. However, the GHS gives jurisdictions some discretion when they adopt the GHS. This includes the flexibility to choose (within guidelines set out in the GHS) the classes and categories they adopt. This is the building block approach. Q11 - What is the building block approach? A The building block approach allows jurisdictions (either countries or blocks of countries, such as the European Union member states) to pick up only those elements of the system that are wanted. This means that European member states are free to determine (within the guidelines set out in the GHS) which of the GHS building blocks will be applied in the different parts of the existing classification and labelling system. For example, if a system covers the carcinogenicity of a chemical, it should follow the (GHS) harmonised classification scheme and the harmonised label elements. The harmonised elements of GHS can therefore be seen as a collection of building blocks from which to form a regulatory approach hence the European Commission s draft Regulation. While the full range of building blocks are available to everyone and should be used, the full range does not have to be adopted. Under the proposal published by the European Commission on the Internet, the EU would adopt most, but not all, of the GHS hazard classes and categories. Q12 - What is a building block? A Although there is presently no formal definition of a building block in the GHS, it is clear that a building block includes a hazard class and a hazard category. 4

5 Q13 - How quickly will the GHS Regulation come into legal effect in the UK? A This is very much a matter for the future, as it depends on when the European Commission publishes its formal proposal and on progress in the European Union and European Parliament. If the Commission publishes its formal proposal for a GHS Regulation in December 2006, and if good progress is made in negotiations in the European Council and the European Parliament, the GHS Regulation could be brought into legal force in spring Depending on the transitional measures that are agreed, suppliers would have 3 years to reclassify and label substances and then a further period to deal with mixtures (preparations). GHS and the existing European classification and labelling system will be expected to run in parallel during the period of transition. Q14 - Will HSE be consulting on the European Commission s proposed GHS Regulation? A Yes. HSE is currently consulting a wide range of stakeholders through various arrangements. HSE is keen to hear from industry, trade unions, non-governmental organisations, small business and other interested parties. HSE has set up a new web pages dedicated to GHS ( HSE has also set up an online GHS consultation site to allow you to discuss GHS issues with colleagues and others informally, as well as keeping you up to date with developments ( The site will also advise how you can respond to the European Commission s proposed Regulation on GHS. We encourage stakeholders to respond directly to the Commission s consultation ( but we request that stakeholders send a copy of any response to HSE. HSE leads on the negotiation of GHS for the UK. The UK Government will also formally respond to the European Commission s consultation. HSE is keen to hear from stakeholders with specific comments on how this proposal will affect the UK. This will then help shape the UK negotiating strategy. 5

6 Comments to HSE on how the proposed Regulation will impact on the UK should be sent to Chloe Barnett, Health and Safety Executive, 9SW Rose Court, 2 Southwark Bridge, London SE1 9HS (or to arrive no later than 29 September 2006 (comment can be accepted after this date, but will not be fed into the UK formal response to the European Commisison s consultation) Q15 - Where can I find further information? A HSE has set up a website, which will be updated at key stages in the development of the proposal. The website address is: The UN site is: The EU site is: 6

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