Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of classification and labelling of chemicals

The GHS is an international system of classifying and communicating chemical hazards. It is used on chemical labels and safety data sheets.


How does the GHS work

The GHS is published by the United Nations. In Victoria, Occupational Health and Safety and Dangerous Goods legislation requires hazardous substances and dangerous goods to be determined/classified and labelled by the manufacturer or importing/first supplier, using the GHS.

Information about the classification and associated hazards of chemicals are displayed using:

  • signal words – used to describe the hazard level associated with the chemical, eg 'warning' or 'danger'
  • hazard statements – describing a chemical's main health effects. The language used is straightforward and familiar, eg 'causes serious eye irritation'
  • precautionary statements – recommends measures to avoid or minimise harmful effects of chemical exposure. Precautionary statements relate specifically to prevention, response, storage and disposal of chemicals.
  • safety data sheets – contain 16 standardised headings with useful information such as health effects, first aid measures and required controls to minimise exposure
  • pictograms – there are nine symbols that communicate the classification of chemicals

What are dangerous goods and hazardous substances

Dangerous goods are classified on the basis of immediate physical or chemical effects on property, the environment or people, such as fire, explosion, corrosion and poisoning.

Hazardous substances are classified only on the basis of health effects. They may be solids, liquids or gases. In the workplace, they are often in the form of fumes, dusts, mists and vapours. Some substances are both hazardous substances and dangerous goods.

In Victoria dangerous goods and hazardous substances are managed by different laws. Hazardous substances are covered by the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) and related regulations. Dangerous Goods are covered by the Dangerous Goods Act 1985 (DG Act) and related regulations.

Some substances are considered both dangerous goods and hazardous substances. In these cases you will need to comply with both sets of legislation.

Who is responsible for labelling chemicals

Under the OHS Regulations 2017, hazardous substances must be determined and labelled by the manufacturer or importing supplier before the substance is first supplied to a workplace.

Under the Dangerous Goods (Storage and Handling) Regulations 2022, Dangerous goods must be determined and labelled by the manufacturer or first supplier.

In either circumstance they should do this by referring to the GHS.

Storing dangerous goods

Those who store and handle chemicals that are dangerous goods must meet the placarding requirements under dangerous goods laws.

The placards provide vital information to the emergency services about the types of dangerous goods stored.

GHS changes will be seen on labels on dangerous goods packages and safety data sheets.

Transporting dangerous goods

Placarding on dangerous goods outer packaging and vehicles in transport must be in accordance with the Dangerous Goods (Transport by Road or Rail) Regulations 2018 and the Australian Dangerous Goods (ADG) Code.

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