Stellina Popplewell

New Zealand At Consultation Stage

Your views are sought on the EPA’s proposal to update the current classification framework for hazardous substances to the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), Revision 7 (2017).

The GHS is an internationally agreed system developed by the United Nations to classify chemicals and communicate their hazards through labels and safety data sheets. If adopted, it will ensure an internationally-aligned classification system for hazardous substances that facilitates trade, increases efficiency in chemicals management, and enhances the effectiveness of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996.

If GHS 7 is adopted, a new EPA Classification Notice will be issued that incorporates GHS 7 by reference. This Notice would align with the EPA Labelling and Safety Data Sheet Notices, which already require compliance with the GHS.

Having the classification system and compliance requirements aligned will reduce complexity for everyone. We see a lot of benefits to adopting GHS, but are also mindful that there are costs and resource implications for others in doing this, and this is one of the areas we are hoping to get feedback on. There are also a range of technical proposals we are seeking input on, for example which particular parts of the GHS we should adopt in New Zealand.

We believe that this consultation document will be of specific interest to applicants for new hazardous substances approvals, producers of safety data sheets, importers and manufacturers, industry organisations, relevant health sector bodies, Non-Governmental Organisations, and other regulators especially those that administer legislation that refers to the current HSNO classification system.


Reporting On Australia’s Consultation

An online consultation for the proposal to adopt an updated edition of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) under the model WHS laws was conducted in July 2019.

Twenty-four submissions were received from a range of stakeholders, including users of hazardous chemicals, manufacturers, suppliers, peak industry associations and government agencies.

Adoption of GHS Revision 7

All respondents to the online consultation and face-to-face sessions support Australia moving from GHS Revision 3 to GHS Revision 7. Stakeholders said they want a co-ordinated and consistent rollout of the new arrangements across Australian states and territories.

Businesses recognise there will be costs to update classifications, labels and SDS for some chemicals products to reflect new requirements under GHS Revision 7. However, industry also recognises the long-term benefits that will be realised by Australia maintaining alignment with other GHS countries, including reduced costs for chemical imports. One industry association noted that as Australia accounts for a very small percentage of world production of hazardous chemicals, it is important that local regulatory requirements are consistent with those of our major trading partners.

Transition models

One option is to mirror the arrangements that applied during the initial transition to the GHS, which would apply to manufacturers/importers only, with no changes required to existing products already in the supply chain or for end users.

An alternative model proposed that GHS Revision 7 requirements would only apply to new products or where significant changes have been made to classifications, with labels and SDS for existing products not subject to significant changes being acceptable (regardless of which GHS is used) until the end of the usual 5-year review cycle for the SDS.

Acknowledging that both options provide flexibility and a pragmatic approach, stakeholders were equally supportive of these two models.

A third option proposed by a peak industry body suggests a ‘mutually accepted approach’ whereby businesses can operate under multiple versions of the GHS at the same time. Under this arrangement, all existing GHS editions could be recognised under WHS laws, with older editions being phased out over a set period of time (e.g. 5 years). It is suggested this approach would allow Australia to better respond in terms of GHS decisions made globally, without locking the Australian GHS implementation into a set time-frame. For example, if the United States moves to GHS Revision 8, then Australia could also implement GHS Revision 8 while continuing to recognise older revisions such as GHS Revision 3 and GHS Revision 7.

Minimising impacts down the supply chain

Another key message from industry is the need to ensure that suppliers and end users are not affected by the move to GHS Revision 7. Industry wants to ensure products, which are manufactured or imported before the transitional period ends, are able to be supplied without needing to meet GHS Revision 7 requirements. In practice, this means existing labels are still acceptable for suppliers and end users until local stock runs out.

In contrast, a WHS regulator commented that transitional arrangements which exempt existing stock creates enforcement problems for regulators, because it is difficult for a regulator to determine when a product is supplied or received in the supply chain.

Precautionary statements

Stakeholders see updated precautionary statements (which appear on product labels and SDS) as one of the most significant changes in moving to GHS Revision 7.

Industry supports flexibility in the use of precautionary statements, if the intent and safety message to the end user remains the same.

Ingredient Proportions on Labels

Another issue flagged during consultation is the unique Australian requirement for the label of a hazardous chemical to disclose the identity and proportion of each ingredient in accordance with Schedule 8 of the model WHS Regulations. Previous feedback from industry indicated this requirement led to increased costs to businesses, as other economies such as the EU and United States do not require this information on a label.

We canvassed views on whether stakeholders would be supportive of removing this labelling requirement from the model WHS Regulations. Stakeholders were overwhelmingly in favour of amending the model WHS laws to remove this requirement, stating it is a requirement unique to Australia that increases compliance costs and does not improve overall product safety as this information is already available in the product’s SDS.

Stakeholders told us that removing this requirement will provide more space on a label to increase text or pictogram size to convey the critical GHS hazard communication elements. The gases sector noted there is very limited space available on a gas cylinder label, and removing this requirement would reduce content overcrowding without impacting user safety.

In contrast, a WHS regulator did not support the removal of ingredient proportions from labels, considering the overall safety benefits of ingredient information warrants its retention.