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The law

European law on chemical classification is long established (1967) and has been in place in Great Britain since the mid 1970s.

Over time, the law has been developed and refined. The current classification laws are sophisticated and incorporate sound scientific assessment and evaluation criteria as well as including weight of evidence, expert judgement and robust scientific principles.

Laws on chemical classification and labelling are aimed at improving the knowledge of:

Law is the means by which this knowledge should be communicated throughout the supply chain (up and down).

Current European and UK law

Current European law on chemical classification is set out in two directives:

These directives are implemented in Great Britain by the Chemicals (Hazard Information and packaging for Supply Regulations 2009 – known as CHIP. The 2009 CHIP Regulations represent the fourth consolidating version of the regulations which date back to the mid 1970s in previous iterations. Northern Ireland has its own CHIP Regulations which exactly mirror those in GB. (see SIs xxxxxxx)

CHIP is well known by chemical suppliers and many chemical users and consumers will also be familiar with the orange and black hazard symbols which have appeared on chemical products for many years.

Example CHIP hazard symbols:

Many of you will also be familiar with the accompanying warning and safety phrases that appear on CHIP hazard labels.

Example risk and safety phrases:

Future European and UK law

For chemicals classification to work reliably and effectively, it is important for classifiers to have a clear set of rules to follow.

By following clear, shared rules when classifying, suppliers are able to give reliable, consistent, and objective advice to their customers. It also helps customers learn what different warning symbols and phrases mean, which is essential for hazard communication to be effective.

This has now been recognised as particularly important on a global scale given the expanding chemical market which stretches across the world.

The Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and the Word Summit held in Johannesburg in 2002, endorsed this view and charged the UN with developing a chemical classification and labelling system that could be adopted across the world.

Historically, several different classification systems have evolved across the world. This can make it quite difficult for users to understand whether or not a chemical could be dangerous – for instance a product shipped from a different part of the world could come with very unfamiliar warnings on the label, which might follow a completely different classification system. This also acts as a barrier to international trade.

To help protect people and the environment, and to facilitate trade, the United Nations has developed a ‘Globally Harmonised System’ (GHS) of classification and labelling.

A ‘Globally Harmonised System’ - GHS

The GHS is a single, worldwide system for classifying and communicating the hazardous properties of industrial and consumer chemicals. GHS sits alongside the UN ‘Transport of Dangerous Goods’ system.

The GHS is sometimes referred to as the ‘Purple Book’ reflecting the purple binding of the published version of GHS. This is in keeping with the transport system which is often referred to as the ‘Orange Book’!

GHS in Europe: introducing the CLP Regulation

The GHS is being adopted by most of the major industrial economies across the world however it is not a legal instrument. In order to make GHS legally binding in countries or blocs of countries (i.e. the European Union), GHS has to be adopted through a suitable legal national or regional mechanism.

In the European Union, GHS is adopted in all member states (including the UK) by EC Regulation (no. 1272/2008) on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures. Thankfully often abbreviated to just ‘CLP’!

As GHS was heavily influenced by the existing EU system, the new CLP based system is similar to the old CHIP based system in many ways.

The duties on suppliers are broadly the same: classification, labelling and packaging. The rules they have to follow when they are classifying will change though, and a new set of hazard pictograms (quite similar to the old ones) are used.

Example of CLP hazard pictograms:

CLP and CHIP – similarities and differences

Like its predecessor directives, CLP deals with classification, hazard communication and packaging. CLP applies to substances and mixtures (preparations) in general. But other specific groups of chemicals may also be subject to additional control and protective regimes: i.e. pesticides, biocides, carcinogens etc.

The CLP Regulation is direct-acting on all member states. Unlike directives, no implementing national law is needed. However we do need national legislation to allow CLP to be enforced and to appoint the national CLP Competent Authority.

In some instances, use of the GHS/CLP system results in slightly different classifications to older systems.

The CLP Regulation generally provides for more flexibility than the CHIP system it is replacing - particularly for those who already have extensive data on their products or on similar products.

For instance, where classifiers have access to reliable data and experience of the effects of their chemicals on humans – principles known as ‘weight of evidence’ and ‘expert judgement’ – suppliers can use these as the basis for a less severe classification than would have resulted from the older system.

In some instances though, use of GHS/CLP system could result in slightly more severe classifications than the older system, because GHS lists different ‘concentration thresholds’.

Because the system is slightly different, in some cases different symbols will appear on labels of chemical products. This does not mean that the chemical itself is any more – or less – dangerous than it was before. It is just a result of a slightly different classification system being followed.

Transition from the ‘old’ to the ‘new’

Currently, chemical classification law is a mix of EU and domestic legislation running side-by-side.

CLP entered into force across all EU member states, including the UK, on 20 January 2009. However CLP is being introduced gradually and has a fairly lengthy transitional period before it applies in full from 1 June 2015. This means that the ‘old’ rules (CHIP) are currently being phased out. For a relatively short period certain arrangements have been put in place to allow the two systems to run side-by-side.

If suppliers want to apply CLP ahead of its mandatory compliance date they are free to do so provided the transitional arrangements are followed.

CLP and substances

The CLP Regulation has applied to substances that are placed on the market since 1 December 2010.

CLP and mixtures (preparations)

CLP will not apply to mixtures (preparations) until 1 June 2015. This is a sensible approach and recognises that there are millions of mixtures placed on the market and that suppliers will need time to make the necessary adjustments.

Exemptions for re-labelling and re-packaging

There are certain limited circumstances where these transitional arrangements for substances and preparations can be extended. The re-labelling and re-packaging of substances and mixtures which are already labelled and packaged and in the supply chain (‘on the shelves’) on the above compliance dates may be postponed until 1 December 2012 and 1 June 2017 respectively.

Note there are no exemptions for classification responsibilities.

In the long run, GHS and CLP, together with the REACH Regulation, should make classification of mixtures easier, cheaper, more accurate, and allow for more flexibility on the part of the classifier.

Making changes to the CLP Regulation – ATPs

Like its predecessor CHIP, the CLP Regulation is routinely updated to take account of scientific knowledge about chemicals and technical development. These amendments are known as adaptations to technical progress or ATPs.

In general there are two series of ATPs which will run side-by-side:

proposed new harmonised substance classifications – these are independently assessed and, if agreed, will amend the list of entries in Annex VI to CLP. Expected to be every 12 months or so; and

amendments made to the classification criteria and technical annexes to the GHS: These amendments reflect the biennial rhythm of the UN GHS, and need to be incorporated into CLP so would be expected every 2 years.

These amendments may also align GHS more closely to the transport regulations.

The ATPs are voted on by Member States and, if agreed, are published as European Commission Regulations.

Downstream legislation

Chemical classification is a fundamental part of the safe management, handling and use of chemicals. As classification deals with the intrinsic hazard of a chemical, it is often used as a starting point for other specific control or protective measures. In many case these measures are set out in other legislation which refer to classification and labelling laws.

Affected European chemical laws

The Dangerous Substances Directive (67/548/EEC) and the Dangerous Preparations Directive (99/45/EC) are referred to in 22 separate pieces of EU legislation.

Link to EC Study document.

This legislation has to be updated to refer to the CLP Regulation to ensure that it remains legally valid.

Most of the affected legislation is in the form of directives. This means it will have been implemented into member states by national regulations. Over time, these regulations will need to be changed to reflect the CLP Regulation. In most cases these changes will be straightforward and will merely reference CLP with no further amendments anticipated.

Updated: 2013-07-25