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Classification and Labelling

Consistent Europe-wide regulations for hazardous substances and mixtures

For safety reasons, hazardous substances and mixtures have to be correctly classified and labelled in the workplace. The appropriate regulations are stipulated in European Regulation (EC) no. 1272/2008, otherwise known as the CLP Regulation. This regulation specifies uniform standards for the classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures.

The CLP Regulation is based on the recommendation of the United Nations (UN) regarding the so-called "Globally Harmonised System" (UN-GHS), which dates back to the 1992 Sustainability Conference in Rio de Janeiro. The UN-GHS provides the framework for globally consistent standards for the safe handling of hazardous substances and mixtures and stipulates the rules on the provision of the required information in the supply chain. Europe is one of the first regions in the world to actually have implemented the framework guidelines of the UN-GHS.

Classification and labelling system according to the CLP Classification and labelling system according to the CLP

Until 2008, the guidelines on the classification and labelling of hazardous substances and mixtures were based on two European directives, the Dangerous Substances Directive (RL 67/648/EEC) and the Dangerous Preparation Directive (RL 1999/45/EC). The 1st June 2017 marks the end of the transitional period for the introduction of the CLP Regulation, after which no more containers with "old" labelling are permitted to go on sale. At internal organisational level, however, stocks can continue to be used if it is possible to ensure that the classification and labelling remains understood; please see TRGS 201 "Classification and labelling with activities involving hazardous substances".

The UN-GHS has not yet been fully developed. The latest improvement developments are addressed and integrated, if required, in the scope of 2-year programmes. At a practical level, this has two consequences: firstly, the CLP Regulation is adapted to the latest technical level with the help of what is known as an ATP (adaptation to technical progress). Secondly, many criteria are formulated comparatively openly and require expert knowledge for their assessment. This opens up scope but it also creates more uncertainty.

The rules stipulated by the CLP Regulation have many similarities with the earlier legal regulations; in particular, the system of classification is configured in a similar way.

On closer detail, there are several differences, however. The changes to the hazard pictograms, for example, are particularly clear: these used to consist of black symbols on an orange square, while the symbols are now shown on a white diamond with a red border. The symbols themselves have also been modified.

Two hazard symbols with skulls Hazard symbols – left: old, right: now

During classification, certain hazard classes and hazard categories are assigned to substances and mixtures on the basis of relevant criteria according to their level of danger. While hazard classes address the nature of the physical, health or environmental hazard, the hazard categories compare the hazard severity within the classes. According to the new Regulation, in the EU, sixteen classes currently apply for physical hazards, ten for health hazards, and two classes for environmental hazards. Some criteria have been tightened, for mixtures in particular. According to the CLP Regulation, for example, the concentrations of irritating or corrosive substances are lower than those in the previous classification of the mixture. Details on the classification criteria are available in Annex I, parts 2-5 of the CLP Regulation.

With the help of specific labelling elements, hazards are communicated via the label and the safety data sheet. The labelling includes:

  • Hazard pictograms
  • The signal word ("Danger" or "Warning")
  • Hazard statements (H-phrases)
  • Precautionary information (P-statements)
  • Further details such as the product name, supplier, etc.

The signal word is a new element and is very helpful for the initial assessment: the signal word "Danger" warns of especially serious hazards. Some of the nine pictograms are also new. In particular, GHS08 (Health Hazard), also addressed as "Torso", is still largely unknown, but it is worthy of special attention. When combined with the signal word "Danger" it indicates very serious damage to health with delayed onset. For example "Torso" in combination with "Danger" is used to refer to carcinogenicity. The new label also contains more information than before, which makes ist difficult to keep the information readable and clearly structured.

torso GHS08-Health hazard (Larger version opens in new window) Pictogram GHS08 Health hazard ("torso")

Further help and explanations on the CLP Regulation are available via the links provided on this page. You can also order information, such as the GHS-Memocard "Gefahrstoffe kompakt" which addresses the meaning of the new symbols, and the poster on the Globally Harmonised System (GHS) in the EU.

For further detailed information please refer to our German Website.

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