GHS Globally Harmonised System
of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals

GHS Labelling

This site has been put together by a collaboration of experts in the chemical field, label manufacturers, printer manufacturers and companies with software systems designed specifically to meet the requirements of this complex legislation.

It is designed to give some very simple answers to the questions we are asked about the legislation and provide some useful links to further information. It is not a definitive guide to GHS and the content is given without any warranty. It is merely designed to assist the user with some very simple answers, with suggested further contacts and information, about this very complex legislation.

What is GHS?

A global system for the classification, identification and labelling of chemicals.

What does GHS stand for?

Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals

Why do we need GHS?

With chemicals being shipped all over the world it is imperative that a common system for identification, classification, hazards, storage and transport conditions is used in order to reduce the risks to both human and animal health and the environment.

What happened before GHS?

Before GHS was created and implemented by the United Nations there were many different regulations on hazard classification in use in different countries. The systems may have been similar in approach and content but they resulted in multiple systems for classification and labelling of the same hazard in different countries

So, what does GHS achieve?

GHS effectively gives the world a common language for Chemical identification.
By the use of common classification of chemicals and their hazards, a common system of labelling including easily understandable symbols and common data sheets the same chemical is identified in the same way in the ‘UK’ as in ‘China’. The aim being to make the international trade in chemicals much safer

Which countries are using GHS?

As the major world nations e.g. Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Japan, Korea, the United States of America and the European Union have ‘signed up’ to GHS implementation it will in turn pull through other nations into the adoption of the system.

Is implementation of GHS required by Law?

Yes – however, although GHS is a global standard driven by the UN, how and when it is implemented is dictated at local level.

How does it work?

The system of classification is very complex and will not be covered here but in principle it covers

1) The identification of the chemical – what is it

2) The identification of the hazard

 The main elements of the hazard criteria are:

  • Physical hazards
  • Health hazards
  • Environmental hazards

Each of the main hazard elements then break down further into the type of hazard for example, very simply

  • Physical hazards e.g. is it explosive, flammable, gas under pressure etc
  • Health hazards e.g. is it acutely toxic, a skin irritant, a carcinogen etc
  • Environmental hazards e.g. is it toxic to aquatic organisms etc

3) The communication of the data (what is it, what are the hazards and how to handle it) by way of labelling and data sheets

Is GHS just for ‘single’ chemicals?

GHS applies to both ‘single’ chemicals and mixtures of chemicals

Are there standards for data sheets?

We don’t intend to go into detail here as this is where expert advice is needed but there are clearly laid down criteria for data sheets and content

Are there standards for labels and packaging?

We don’t intend to go into detail here as this is where expert advice is needed but there are clearly laid down criteria for labelling and packaging, the information they must contain, where and how it must appear and any minimum label size that must be used for particular container sizes (drums, bottles etc)


What is a BS5609 label?

BS5609 is an internationally recognised standard covering the suitability of a particular label for use on containers of chemicals for shipment by sea. BS5609 approval is a requirement for self adhesive labels on drums of chemicals which need International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) certification.

The BS5609 standard sets out various durability criteria including adhesive performance, print permanence and abrasion resistance with a minimum standard for labels to be used in marine environments.

There are two key sections of the standard:

Section 2 – The Label performance.

This section tests the permanence and durability of the label material and adhesive under conditions of marine exposure, temperature variations, weathering and exposure to salt spray and sunlight.

Section 3 – The Print performance.

This tests the print key, abrasion resistance and permanence of the print on the label. Only section 2 approved materials can be tested for section 3.

Section 3 compliance is granted when a particular material is tested in conjunction with a specific printer model. It follows that if either the specified material, printer model or ink used to produce the finished hazard label is changed or modified the section 3 compliance will be void.

In very simple terms the BS5609 labelling standard means that if a drum falls off the side of a ship and washes ashore the label must still be stuck to it and the information printed on it must be readable.

Although in many general labelling applications the full BS5609 certification may not be required it is, in practice, widely used to describe an extremely durable label suitable for ‘harsh conditions’.

Do all chemicals need a BS5609 label?

If the chemicals require IMDG (International Maritime Dangerous Goods) certification and you are using a self adhesive label then it must be approved to BS5609. It is also good practice to use a robust, durable label for all chemicals.

Do GHS regulations require the use of BS5609 labels?

GHS defines what information and in what form must be on the label and the minimum label size to be used. Other regulations e.g. IMDG then stipulate what type of label must be used.

Where can I find more information?

For more specific information about

Self adhesive labels - BS5609 Section 2 compliant
Laser printers - when used in conjunction with the BS5609 labels these OKI printers will give you BS5609 Section 2 and 3 compliance
Software - software to suit different size industries for full GHS requirements
Useful links - a series of helpful links to more information