How does classification work?

Who should carry out classification?

Classification is the responsibility of chemical suppliers - for example manufacturers, importers, downstream users, and distributors. A chemical is either a substance (such as sodium chloride) or a mixture (like paint).

Supplier's conclusions about classification are not approved or vetted by the GB CLP Agency (HSE) or other government authorities - although they might be scrutinised if there should be a problem or if particular concerns are raised.

Supply and placing on the market

Supply means making a substance or mixture available to another person and includes importing a substance or mixture into Great Britain. So, a 'supplier' is any person who does this (for example, a manufacturer, importer, downstream user (such as a formulator) or a distributor (like a retailer)).

You may also see the term 'placing on the market'. This is much the same as supply and means 'supplying or making available, whether in return for payment or free of charge, to a third party'. Import into Great Britain is deemed to be placing on the market. Direct supply from Northern Ireland to Great Britain is deemed supply, not import.

Remember! Classification must be carried out regardless of the tonnage, volume or amount of the chemical being supplied.

The basics

The basic classification requirement is for chemical suppliers to determine whether the chemicals they supply are 'hazardous' according to an internationally agreed set of rules (known as classification 'criteria') to identify what harm a chemical might cause.

There are criteria for:

  • physical hazards (for example, explosivity, flammability)
  • health hazards (for example, potential to cause cancer in humans, to irritate the skin or eyes, etc)
  • environmental hazards (for example, harmful to the aquatic environment, etc).

When classifying a chemical, the supplier must consider:

  • what sort of harm a chemical might cause - the hazards
  • how certain it is that the chemical could actually have this effect
  • how serious the effect might be
  • how potent the chemical is

Classification of a mixture is generally based on what is known of the constituent substances or similar products.

Gathering data, testing and scientific studies

Generally, the GB CLP Regulation does NOT require new studies be conducted for the purposes of classification.

Instead, suppliers have to obtain and evaluate all the available and relevant information to classify their substances and mixtures.

In practice this means that many mixtures can be classified on the basis of publicly available data, for example, using the classification of the component substances including those listed in the GB mandatory classification and labelling list.

Nevertheless, some suppliers may choose to generate new information to improve their mixture classifications.

The exception is physical hazards - where no data is available, suppliers are required to generate test data for these hazard classes (such a test must not involve the use of vertebrate animals).

As a general rule if the chemical is not hazardous there may be nothing more you need to do. The exceptions to this include special cases where some mixtures that are not hazardous still need additional warning information, and/or a 'safety data sheet' to be provided to industrial and professional users (and available for consumers on request).

Detailed guidance on how to apply the agreed classification criteria is provided by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and should continue to be used.

Guidance on the application of the CLP criteria

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Updated: 2022-02-11