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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Globally Harmonized System for the Classification and Labeling of Chemicals


The international mandate for the GHS was adopted in the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), as reflected in Agenda 21:


"A globally harmonized hazard classification and compatible labeling system, including material safety data sheets and easily understandable symbols, should be available, if feasible, by the year 2000".

In Johannesburg in 2002, the Plan of Action adopted by the World Summit on Sustainable Development encouraged countries to implement the new GHS as soon as possible, with a view to having the system fully operational by 2008.

The System is designed to:

    • enhance the protection of people and the environment by providing an internationally comprehensive system for chemical hazard communication;
    • provide a recognized framework for those countries without an existing system;
    •  reduce the need for duplicative testing and evaluation of chemicals; and
    • facilitate international trade in chemicals whose hazards have been properly assessed and identified on an international basis.

Scope of the GHS

    •  Covers all hazardous chemical substances, dilute solutions, and mixtures.
    • Pharmaceuticals and food additives will not be covered at the point of intake, but will be covered where workers may be exposed, and in transport.
    • Target audiences for the GHS include consumers, workers, transport workers and emergency responders.
    • The goal of the GHS is to identify the intrinsic hazards found in chemical substances and to convey information about these hazards.
    • The GHS is not intended to harmonize risk assessment procedures or risk management decisions.

The System provides tools that countries can draw upon to develop national chemical hazard communication systems. It also provides a basis for the establishment of comprehensive chemical safety programs. The GHS is a voluntary system in that it does not impose binding treaty obligations on countries but, to the extent that countries adopt the GHS into national regulatory requirements, it will be binding on the regulated community.

Key U.S. agencies with responsibility for regulatory and international affairs formed an interagency committee coordinated by the Department of State to address implementation of GHS. Participating agencies include:

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