Risk management of chemicals

OECD Reaches Agreement on Criteria for a Globally Harmonised Classification System for Chemicals


20/06/2001 - OECD countries have just taken a huge step forward to ensure the safe use and handling of chemicals. National officials responsible for chemical safety policies have established and agreed on globally accepted criteria for a complete classification system for chemicals and chemical mixtures when they are transported by road, rail, air and water and used in the workplace and by consumers. These criteria will be used in a Globally Harmonised System (GHS). The System will apply to all chemicals and mixtures of chemicals but the application of particular components of the system may vary by type of product or stage of the life cycle.

The production and use of chemicals and chemical mixtures are essential for the well-being and economies of developed and developing countries alike. However, chemicals may also pose a risk to the health of people and the environment if not managed in a responsible manner. One essential step in the safe use and handling of chemicals is the identification of their specific hazards and the subsequent dissemination of this information in a manner easily understood by the people using the chemicals. The GHS meets this need.

The GHS sets out detailed procedures and criteria to classify hazardous properties of chemicals into specific hazard classes such as: "explosive", "flammable", "corrosive in contact with metal or skin", "carcinogenic", "damages the unborn child", "hazardous to the aquatic environment" and many more. The GHS will further comprise a harmonised combination of symbols (e.g., "skull and crossbones"), signal words (e.g., "DANGER") and hazard statements (e.g., "may cause an allergic skin reaction") for each of the identified hazard classes. Symbols, signal words and hazard statements will all be integrated into the hazard label of each chemical and chemical mixture that poses a hazard.

The development of the GHS has been a joint effort of the OECD, ILO and the UN Committee of Experts on Transport of Dangerous Goods (UN-CETDG). The OECD has been the lead organisation for the development of classification criteria for all human health and environmental hazards and the UN CETDG has developed the hazard criteria for physical hazards. ILO has taken the lead in the harmonisation of hazard communication.

By the end of 2001, the combined work of the three organisations will be presented to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to start the global implementation.

The OECD website on the Programme on Harmonisation of Classification and Labelling (http://www.oecd.org/env/classify) provides detailed information on the GHS and on the OECD's role in its development. Journalists should contact Helen Fisher, OECD Media Relations (Tel. 33 1 45 24 80 97). Inquiries can also be made to ehscont@oecd.org.