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Introduction to the GHS

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) addresses the classification of chemicals by types of hazards and proposes harmonized hazard communication elements, including labels and safety data sheets.

Its objectives are:

  • to ensure that information on physical hazards and toxicity from chemicals is available to enhance the protection of human health and the environment during the handling, transport and use of these chemicals.
  • to provide a basis for harmonization of rules and regulations on chemicals at national, regional and worldwide level, an important factor also for trade facilitation.

The GHS is often considered as a fundamental component of the sound management of chemicals. The system is applicable to all sectors: health, labour, agriculture, environment, transport, trade, and more.

The GHS applies to all chemicals and mixtures of chemicals, but excludes pharmaceuticals, food additives, cosmetics, and pesticide residues in food. Pesticides are thus included in the GHS, and FAO and WHO recommend that their classification and labelling follows GHS provisions. However, pesticide formulations containing biological organisms are not covered by the GHS.

The GHS includes:

  • harmonized criteria for classifying substances and mixtures according to their health, environmental and physical hazards; and
  • harmonized hazard communication elements, including requirements for labelling and safety data sheets (SDS).

The GHS is sometimes also referred to as the “Purple Book”, because of the colour of the cover of the printed version and is recognized as an important tool in the work on risk reduction. It serves as an internationally harmonized approach to classification of acute and chronic health effects like cancer, toxicity to reproduction, mutagenicity, of physical and chemical properties and of certain environmental hazards.

The introduction and application of the GHS is also a key step to identify pesticides that may pose a risk to human health and the environment to enable further actions and restrictions. While some countries take regulatory decisions on the basis of hazard classification alone, others may require a risk assessment which will serve as a basis for a decision.

Some countries may already have implemented GHS in their legislation and made it a mandatory requirement also for the classification of pesticides, while others have not.

This Toolkit module provides an entry point for persons who would like to learn more about the GHS and how it can be applied depending on the requirements in the country. The aim of this module is to make relevant parts of the Toolkit more easily accessible to regulators when applying GHS as part of the assessment of pesticides.

The following topics are included in this module: