Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS)

Agenda 21 is a comprehensive plan of sustainable development to be used globally, nationally and locally by United Nations Organizations, Governments and Major Groups in every area in which humans impact on the environment. It was adopted by more than 178 Governments at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992.

Specifically, Chapter 19 - Programme Area B addresses the Harmonization of classification and labelling of chemicals. The objective at the time was "A globally harmonized hazard classification and compatible labelling system, including material safety data sheets and easily understandable symbols, should be available, if feasible, by the year 2000."

Work began under this international mandate in 1993. Although harmonization had not been achieved in the workplace and consumer sectors, a system of classification and labelling, harmonized within the transport sector, existed based on the work of the United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods (UNCETDG).

The task of harmonizing all sectors was managed and coordinated by the Interorganization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals (IOMC) Coordinating Group for the Harmonization of Chemical Classification Systems (CG/HCCS). The International Labour Organization (ILO), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and United Nations Sub-Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods (UNSETDG) acted as technical focal points for nearly a decade to complete the work.

In December 1999 the UN Committee (UNCETDG) was officially reconfigured into the Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods and on the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. In addition to the existing Transport Sub-Committee (UNSETDG) the new Sub-Committee of Experts on the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (UNSEGHS) was created. The UNSEGHS is responsible for implementing and maintaining the GHS.

Documents concerning the GHS Sub-Committee may be obtained electronically through the following link to the UNECE's Dangerous Goods and Special Cargoes Section Home Page.

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