What is the Globally Harmonised System (GHS)?

The Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), promoted by the United Nations, includes requirements for classifying and labelling substances and mixtures, and defines the format and content that should be included on Safety Data Sheets.

Why is the GHS regulation necessary?

Exposure to hazardous chemicals is one of the most serious threats that workers and general consumers currently face. Hundreds of chemicals are constantly being produced and transported through our streets, motorways and railways.

That is why many countries have developed programs and methods to communicate these risks appropriately via labelling and Safety Data Sheets (SDS). These different ways of communicating risks together with more globalised trade saw the need for a harmonised system that streamlined criteria globally.

Global implementation of the GHS regulation

Currently, GHS can be used all over the world. In its Plan of Implementation adopted in Johannesburg on 4 September 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) encouraged countries to implement the new GHS as soon as possible.

Currently, GHS has been implemented in many countries or areas across the world (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Chile, Colombia, the European Union, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, the United States, Uruguay) and its global implementation seems unstoppable, although there are notable differences in the time frame for adaptation and certain implementation conditions.

In practice, many countries have adapted GHS to their national legislation, including adjustments that had existing issues in its previous regulation. This was the European Union’s case, where GHS adaptation was carried out via the Regulation (EC) 1272/2008, which included certain preexisting classifications in the old directives for classifying and labelling substances and preparations, and via the Regulation (EC) No. 1907/2006 (REACH) on Safety Data Sheets’ content.

However, the GHS’s evolution involves new elements, which in the long term, will make these adaptations unnecessary, contributing to ever more complete harmonisation. If you want more information about the GHS regulation and its implementation areas, check out the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) website. The GHS was based on the main existing regulations (USA, Canada, EU) and the United Nations’ recommendations on transporting hazardous goods.

GHS timeline

History of the Globally Harmonised System


The International Labour Organization (ILO), a United Nations agency, started working towards an international convention on the safe use of chemical products in the workplace.


The United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED) set out in Chapter 19 of Agenda 21, the grounds for creating a globally harmonised system for classifying and labelling chemical products.


The first edition of GHS was adopted in 2002 and published in 2003. Since then, there have been 10 more revisions – the last was published in 2023.

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