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At international level

Implementation through international legal instruments, recommendations, codes and guidelines

International organizations as well as United Nations programmes and specialized agencies
continue to implement the GHS by developing, amending or revising their relevant international instruments dealing with chemical safety and in particular, those addressing: transport of dangerous goods; pesticide management; occupational safety and health; characterization of wastes; and prevention of major industrial accidents.

Detailed information on each of these areas is given under the headings below (click on each of the entries to display or hide it. The information under the first heading appears displayed by default).

Transport of dangerous goods

For the transport of dangerous goods, the GHS is implemented through the "UN Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods. Model Regulations" and the following transport legal international instruments addressing the different modes of transport. All of them are revised every two years and take account of the provisions of the Model Regulations (which are also updated every two years).

For maritime transport (IMO): the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG Code)

The IMDG Code is of mandatory application for 166 countries parties to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).

For air transport (ICAO): ICAO Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air (ICAO TI)

The ICAO TIs are of mandatory application for the 193 countries parties to the Convention on International Civil Aviation.

For land transport (road, rail and inland waterways):

  • Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR)
    The annexed regulations to the agreement are mandatory for the 52 Contracting Parties to the Agreement. They are also of mandatory application for domestic traffic in EU and EEA countries through European Directive 2008/68/EC (see note) and in the Russian Federation (Ordinance No.272 of 15 April 2011).
  • Regulations concerning the International Transport of Dangerous Goods by Rail (RID)
    The Regulations are of mandatory application to the 45 Contracting States as well as for domestic traffic in EU and EEA countries through European Directive 2008/68/EC (see note). 
  • European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Inland Waterways (ADN)
    The Agreement has 18 Contracting Parties. The Annexed Regulations are mandatory for all contracting parties as ell as for domestic traffic in EU and EEA countries through European Directive 2008/68/EC, only for countries which are not linked by inland waterway to other EU countries (see note).

Note: RID/ADR/ADN are revised every two years and take account of the provisions of the UN Model Regulations, which are also revised every two years. 

Directive 2008/68/EC applies to the transport of dangerous goods by road, rail or inland waterways within or between European Union Member States. It makes direct reference to the relevant legal instruments implementing the provisions of the UN Model Regulations on the transport of Dangerous Goods by road, rail and inland waterways (i.e.: ADR, ADN and RID) and in addition to make ADR and RID applicable to road/rail transport of dangerous goods in the EU, requires those States with inland waterways linked, by inland waterways, to waterways of other member States to apply the regulations annexed to ADN whether or not they are Parties to the ADN. The Directive entered into force on 20 October 2008. Following its adoption, directives 94/55/EC, 96/49/EC, 96/35/EC, 2000/18/EC and Commission Decisions 2005/263/EC and 2005/180/EC were repealed.

Pesticide management

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) promotes the implementation of the GHS in the field of pesticides. Several of its guidelines have been revised and include recommendations and guidance for classification and labelling of pesticides in accordance with GHS criteria: These include:

  • FAO Guidelines for the Registration of Pesticides (2010)
  • FAO Guidelines on Good Labelling Practice for Pesticides (2022). The 2022 revision stresses further the importance to use the GHS for pesticide labelling purposes. The advantage of harmonized classification and labelling across jurisdictions to improve comprehension of chemical risks and to facilitate trade in pesticides is emphasized. To avoid conflicts in classification and confusion for users, the guidance recommends that GHS should be the only classification scheme used for labelling health hazards of pesticides. In addition, it makes further reference to the GHS by proposing that hazard colour bands could be added to pesticide labels to take into account both acute and severe chronic health hazards, using the GHS criteria for carcinogenicity, mutagenicity and reproductive toxicity. This goes beyond the previous version of the guidance which covered only acute toxicity.
  • FAO Guidelines on Highly Hazardous Pesticides (2016)

Additional information and guidelines for the implementation of the International Code of Conduct on Pesticide management are available at the FAO website.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also updated in 2019 the WHO Recommended Classification of pesticides by hazard to take account of the GHS. The 2019 uses revised classification criteria which take account of the GHS categories for acute oral and dermal toxicity. The GHS acute oral toxicity category for each pesticide is also now presented in the publication. The revision includes approximately 100 new pesticide entries.

The second edition of the compendium of FAO and WHO guidelines and other ressources for managing pesticides in agriculture and public health is available here

Occupational safety and health

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has several conventions, recommendations, codes of practice, guidance and tools addressing protection of workers from the exposure to hazardous substances. The report "ILO Instruments on Chemical Safety - Analysis and synergies with other international frameworks on the sound management of chemicals" published in 1 January 2020 provides an overview of all major ILO instruments addressing chemical hazards for human health and safety as well as the environment. ILO has also published on 3 September 2021 a report entitled "The GHS in the world of work: Mapping synergies between ILO instruments and the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS)". 

Characterization of wastes

Basel Convention on the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal

The Basel Convention addresses hazard identification of wastes in its Annex III, which contains a list of hazardous characteristics (H1 to H13) that are used to determine whether they are subject to control under the Convention. These include wastes that are explosive, flammable, poisonous, infections, corrosive, toxic, etc.

By decision BC-13/2, the Conference of Parties established an expert working group (EWG) on the review of annexes I, III and IV of the Convention. Annex I lists the categories of wastes to be controlled under the Convention, including both specific waste categories (Y1 to Y18) and wastes having specific constituents (Y19 to Y45). Annex III lists the hazardous characteristics (H1 to H13). The mandate of the group was extended and expanded by the Conference of the Parties in its decisions BC-14/13, BC-14/16 and BC-15/19 with, among others, an additional mandate to consider whether any additional constituents or characteristics in relation to plastic waste should be added to annex I or III, respectively, to the Convention. The information below focuses on the work of the group in relation to the review of Annex III to the Basel Convention.

The purpose of the review of Annex III is to: (i) Improve/update the list of hazardous characteristics in Annex III; (ii) Improve environmental controls by including any additional hazardous characteristics in Annex III that occur in practice; and (iii) Clarify the descriptions in Annexe III to address conflicts or overlaps.

The expert working group met several times since its establishment. It focused the review of Annex III first on exchanging information on the various proposals put forward and on four general issues namely, the reference to UN class, the alignment with GHS, the alignment with the Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR), and the level of specificity of H-characteristics, as well as on the testing methods and the structure of Annex III. The EWG exchanged views on the benefits of retaining the UN class with respect to some hazardous characteristics and of possibly introducing the use of the GHS when relevant, for instance with respect to UN class 9. It also discussed: the value added of establishing thresholds to determine whether a specific waste category can be characterized as hazardous; testing methods; and the possibility of adding new hazardous characteristics, for instance “persistent organic pollutant”. 

As at 11 October 2022, the expert working group has developed, among others, draft recommended options for possible amendments to Annex III to the Convention which were made available to Parties and observers to the Convention with an invitation to comment by 17 October 2022. The expert working group is set to meet in Geneva on 5-7 December 2022 for its fifth meeting at what time it is expected to further consider its recommended options for possible amendments to Annex III in light of comments received. Information on the activities of the expert working group for the biennium 2022-2023, including access to comments received on the draft recommendations for possible amendments to Annex III is available here.

Looking further ahead, the progress made in the review of Annex III will be considered by the Open-ended Working Group of the Basel Convention during its thirteenth meeting (Geneva, 21-23 February 2023) with the aim of providing recommendations for consideration by the Conference of the Parties at its sixteenth meeting (Geneva, 1-12 May 2023). Further information can be obtained from the Basel Convention secretariat.

Prevention of and response to accidents involving hazardous substances (including industrial accidents)

The UNECE Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents aims at preventing accidents involving hazardous activities (including the production, use, storage, handling or disposal of hazardous substances) that may have transboundary effects. Some examples of hazardous activities include the work done at fertilizer or chemical plants or at petroleum storage or extraction tailing facilities. Countries that have decided to accede to the Convention or have taken on the obligation to implement its provisions must first define the scope of application. They must identify those hazardous activities for which prevention and preparedness are required in respect of accidents with transboundary effects. 

Annex I to the Convention includes a list defining hazardous activities and is divided into two parts: part I contains categories of substances and mixtures, while part II lists named substances which, when present at an installation in quantities equal to or greater than those specified, indicate that a hazardous activity is carried out at the installation. The hazard categorization for classification of substances and mixtures in part I is in accordance the GHS.

All information related to the Convention and its implementation (including guidance materials) is available at the Convention website.

OECD Legal Instruments

On 8 June 2023, the OECD Council meeting at Ministerial level adopted a decision-recommendation setting out key elements to support the development of a chemical accidents programme addressing prevention, preparedness and response aiming at helping public authorities in OECD member states and "adherents" to respond to chemical accidents with loss of life, injuries and damage to property and the environment. To this end, the Council decided that adherents establish, maintain or strengthen programmes for the prevention of, preparedness for, and response to chemical accidents, taking into account the Guiding Principles and other relevant OECD guidance. To this effect, they should, among other actions "develop control frameworks which have a defined scope so that the activities to be regulated and that the hazardous substances and hazardous properties of those substances may be clearly identified (in line with GHS) and consider the need for qualifying quantities".

The full text of the decision-recommendation as well as all supporting information is available at the OECD website.


Last update date: June 19, 2023