International Programme on Chemical Safety

Implementation of the Globally Harmonized System for the Classification and Labelling of Chemicals

Statement by the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS), World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland for the first meeting of Partners for the WSSD Global Partnership for Capacity Building to Implement the GHS

10 - 11 July 2003 -- Geneva, Switzerland

The protection of human health and the environment are at the centre of sustainable development. The World Health Organization, through the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS), strongly endorses the need for effective communication channels for information on chemical hazards from manufacturers and suppliers to downstream users. Mechanisms to assist, promote and build capacity to support such communication channels are of vital importance.

The completion of the Globally Harmonised System for the Classification and Labelling of Chemicals is a significant achievement in the context of the InterOrganization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals (IOMC). In accordance with the resolutions of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002, the WHO is committed to implement this system. IPCS is actively involved in engaging its Participating Institutions, networks of health professionals and scientific experts to identify activities and processes that will assist countries to have the system fully operational by 2008.

This commitment is fully consistent with the two main roles of the IPCS to establish the scientific basis for the safe use of chemicals and to provide technical assistance in strengthening national capabilities and capacities for the sound management of chemicals.

Having an internationally harmonized hazard communication system is the centrepiece of many years of work at national, international and global levels. Developing countries and countries with economies in transition, which constitute the major importers and users of chemicals, are likely however, to face particular challenges in implementing the system and integrating it into good chemicals management practices. Cooperative global activities should not rest after developing the global system and must continue towards implementation, maintenance and development.

IPCS has an established and internationally recognized leadership role in the preparation of risk assessments on specific chemicals and for developing and harmonizing hazard and risk assessment methods. These products include Concise International Chemical Risk Assessment Documents, International Chemical Safety Cards, Pesticide Data Sheets, and Poisons Information Monographs These products are of particular benefit to countries that may lack high levels of toxicological expertise. IPCS has already started to begin work to maximize the consistency of its hazard and risk assessment products with the global system for classification of hazards in order to enable national governments to use these products more effectively in implementing the GHS at the national level.

It is also a goal of IPCS to more effectively engage health professionals in its chemical assessment activities. This has significant practical benefits for the implementation and further development of the GHS particularly in relation to arrangements for precautionary statements and first-aid instructions which are found on both labels and safety data sheets. Also important is maintaining and continuing to develop the GHS to take account of hazards where there is a wealth of existing information on human exposures to chemicals in the home, in the workplace and via environmental media. Health professionals are often the first responders in cases of chemical exposures. These professionals have a long-standing practical experience of treating chemically-exposed individuals and specific expertise in the recognition of symptoms and signs, their evolution and in the development and evaluation of cost-effective first-aid and emergency medical management. This expertise and experience should be taken into account when harmonizing precautionary statements and safety sheets.

Another area of cooperative global work where implementation of the GHS may become more important in the future is in the development of practical tools for controlling exposures to chemicals, particularly in small and medium size businesses. One of these tools, known as control banding is currently being developed by WHO and ILO through IPCS, to use the agreed hazard classifications of chemicals identified through implementation of the GHS together with information about exposure potential to identify broad, simple and effective control approaches.

WHO, through IPCS looks forward to sharing its expertise and participating in the partnerships initiative.