Australian chemical compliance with GHS
It’s no surprise that the volume of new chemicals in the marketplace is on the rise. According to the Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS), a global resource of chemical information, there are over 100 million registered substances worldwide and a CAS number is assigned to a new, unique registered substance every 2.5 min.
This astonishing growth of chemicals in the marketplace has increased the need for regulations, especially those around human health, safety and the environment. Companies must identify components in their products, and correctly classify them, to create an overall classification for their product. These classifications are required by governmental organisations for product registrations, as well as on labels and safety data sheets (SDS). Every product which is hazardous is required to have this classification process done, ranging from paints to fragrances and everything in between.
In Australia this includes the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), as well the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS). They register and identify chemicals and their associated hazardous and dangerous properties.
Australian adoption of GHS
1 January 2017 was an important date for Australia with the adoption of the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling, also known as the GHS.
The GHS uses a combination of pictograms, signal words and hazard and precautionary statements to communicate consistent information. As a result, workers will have greater information available to them on the safe handling and use of hazardous chemicals, reducing injuries and illnesses related to exposure from hazardous chemicals.
SafeWork Australia implemented the GHS under the national Model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations. This brings Australia into line with many other countries that have also adopted the GHS, including many of Australia’s major trading partners. With the exception of parameters around aquatic toxicity and ozone depletion, Australia has adopted the third edition of the GHS.
Most states and territories have mandated the use of GHS-compliant classification, labelling and SDS. Those that haven’t do accept the new standard and still require chemical hazards to be communicated. This essentially means that all hazardous chemicals must now have a GHS-compliant SDS and be classified according to the GHS guidelines.
Who does the GHS affect?
The GHS affects manufacturers, importers, suppliers and end users. Whilst the GHS may not be mandated for consumer chemicals, it is mandated for industrial chemicals. This includes large pack sizes of chemicals which are used in a workplace, such as on a pool service van. These products, unless under the dual-use exemption, need to have GHS label information. There are partial exemptions in place for chemicals registered with the APVMA; however, they still require the GHS elements not covered by Ag Vet approved labelling to be added to a label in a separate box.
Should you worry?
UL, a global safety science company, has spoken to many of the state regulators on GHS and its adoption. Most of them are taking a guidance approach, preferring to issue non-compliance notices giving companies a chance to comply. However, this won’t last forever, and failing to meet these regulations can result in hefty fines ranging from $5000 to $75,000 per offence. This includes not supplying and updating a SDS to GHS format, SDS not being accessible and doctoring a SDS. Selection and use of label elements not in accordance with the GHS is also a punishable offence.
If you’re importing products, it’s important to realise that even if they are labelled to the GHS in another country, and have a GHS SDS, this may not contain all the required information for Australia. There are sections such as a valid Australian address and emergency contact information, as well as classification to the Australian WHS, which must still be addressed. Cut-off concentrations for classifications can vary by country, as well as the building blocks adopted. Best practice is to reissue the label and SDS for Australia.
What can be done?
Today there are hundreds more regulations than there were just five years ago, and thousands more than in the early 2000s. Constant change is a hallmark of regulatory protocols and it can be challenging to both understand and comply with new requirements.
Company-wide chemical compliance solutions come in all shapes and sizes. Here are a few tips that could be useful towards achieving GHS compliance:
1. Work with a trusted regulatory specialist
If you are a producer of chemical-containing products and lack regulatory know-how, working with a seasoned professional will help you define both your business needs and regulatory considerations for proper classifications.
2. Chemical compliance software
If you have regulatory knowledge, implementing a software solution could be beneficial for both supplying products locally and transporting products outside of Australia. A good software system can guide you though classification distinctions from different regions, as well as being very helpful when producing your documentation in different languages.
3. Self-service GHS automation
I have recently had the privilege of working on a new and innovative GHS self-service online tool (found at ULGHS.com) that allows companies to create their own compliant SDS. The site asks four primary questions that intelligently determine a subsequent logic tree of additional questions. Your answers are then run through a series of proprietary automation rule streams that derive the appropriate classifications for you. A UL template-approved SDS is created and delivered for use. Self-service automation is a viable, cost-effective solution for companies that produce a small number of products and with limited or no regulatory staff.
The GHS is a good thing for Australia. It will likely improve chemical compliance, but it’s everyone’s responsibility. If you’re an end user, familiarise yourself with the GHS and what the symbols on the label mean. From pool chemicals in a specialised store to the hairspray you buy from the supermarket, you’re likely to start seeing these symbols. If you’re a business owner or operator and a chemical comes in, if the SDS isn’t GHS classified, don’t accept it. If you’re a manufacturer, make sure you’re providing the correct classification for your label and SDS, to help protect the safety of all workers in Australia.
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