Legislation for Classification and Labelling of Chemicals

An introduction to classification and labelling of chemicals according to European law and the function of safety data sheets.

Table of Contents

Classification and Labelling of Chemicals

Generally, substances and mixtures that are sold within the EU, must be classified and labelled in accordance with the regulation of classification, labelling and packaging (CLP). The CLP label must display the relevant hazard pictogram(s), signal word, hazard and precautionary statements along with supplemental information, where applicable. The label element must reflect the assigned classification of the substance or mixture. National legislation might be more restrictive than the EU Directive.

Examples of some labelling elements for concentrated sulphuric acid.
Product name Sulphuric Acid
Hazard pictogram Harmed material and harmed handCorrosive
Signal word Danger
Hazard statement Causes severe skin burns and eye damage.
There are nine different hazard pictograms, each with a specific graphic symbol in black surrounded by a red diamond-shaped outline (a red square rotated 45°).
Hazard:
Gas under pressure
Gas cylinder
Explosive
Exploding bomb
Oxidising
Flame over circle
Flammable
Flame
Corrosive
Harmed material and harmed hand
Acute toxicity
Skull and crossbones
Serious health hazard
Torso harmed internally
Health hazard / Hazardous to the ozone layer
Exclamation mark
Hazardous to the environment
Dead plant and dead fish

The classification of a substance or mixture is based on its hazardous properties, with respect to physical hazards, health hazards or environmental hazards. The hazards are divided into different hazard classes, for example “Acute toxicity” or “Flammable liquids”.

Classification and labelling according to CLP, using the Class Acute Toxicity as an example.
ClassificationLabelling
HazardAbbreviation of classificationPictogram, codeSignal wordCodeHazard Statement
ClassCategory
Acute toxicityCategory 1Acute tox. 1Skull-and-crossboneGHS06Danger
  • H300
  • H310
  • H330
  • Fatal if swallowed.
  • Fatal in contact with skin.
  • Fatal if inhaled.
Category 2Acute tox. 2
Category 3Acute tox. 3
  • H301
  • H311
  • H331
  • Toxic if swallowed.
  • Toxic in contact with skin.
  • Toxic if inhaled.
Category 4Acute tox. 4Exclamation markGHS07Warning
  • H302
  • H312
  • H332
  • Harmful if swallowed.
  • Harmful in contact with skin.
  • Harmful if inhaled.

Each hazard class is divided into different categories, indicating the degree of the hazard. The category with the lowest number represents the most severe hazard. A chemical product may be classified into several hazard classes, in the relevant category.

Hazard statements describe the physical, health or the environmental hazards of the chemical. For example, Category 3 of “Acute Toxicity” must bear on the label the hazard statements “H301 Toxic if swallowed”, “H311 Toxic in contact with skin”, or “H331 Toxic if inhaled”, depending on by which route the chemical causes that effect.

While the hazard statements are related to a substance’s chemical properties, the precautionary statements describe how substances should be handled and stored in a safe way. The hazard and precautionary statements are numbered according to the type of hazard or precaution they code for. They have a specific wording in all EU and EEA languages and cannot be translated freely.

Overview of codes for hazard (H-) statements according to CLP.
CodeType of hazard
H200–H299Physical hazard
H300–H399Health hazard
H400–H499Environmental hazard
Overview of codes for precautionary (P-) statements according to CLP.
CodeType of precaution
P100–P199General
P200–P299Prevention
P300–P399Response (measures)
P400–P499Storage
P500–P599Disposal

Safety Data Sheets

A safety data sheet must be provided together with all chemicals that are classified as hazardous according to the CLP Regulation, when supplied for professional or industrial use. A safety data sheet is a legally required document containing information on hazards as well as safe use.

The supplier of a substance or mixture must provide a safety data sheet, and remains responsible for the accuracy of the information they provide. The safety data sheet must be supplied free of charge, no later than when the substance or the mixture is first supplied to the recipient. It can be provided on paper or electronically, but it is not sufficient to only make it available on a web page. Unless the safety data sheet has been revised by the supplier, it is not necessary to provide it with subsequent deliveries to the same recipient. The updated version of a safety data sheet must be provided to all former recipients to which the substance or mixture has been supplied within the preceding 12 months.

All safety data sheets (SDS) must contain the following 16 sections.

  1. Identification of substance and of company
  2. Hazard(s) identification
  3. Composition
  4. First aid measures
  5. Firefighting measures
  6. Accidental release measures
  7. Handling and storage
  8. Exposure controls/personal protection
  9. Physical and chemical properties
  10. Stability and Reactivity
  11. Toxicological information
  12. Ecological information
  13. Disposal considerations
  14. Transport Information
  15. Regulatory information
  16. Other information

Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) consists of common criteria for classification and labelling of chemicals, adopted by the United Nations in 2002. The GHS principles are incorporated largely unchanged into EU legislation by the CLP and REACH Regulations. The aim of GHS is to harmonize rules for classifying chemical hazards by using a common format and content for labels and safety data sheets.

Published: 
30.06.2022

Last modified: 

30.06.2022
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Online Resources for Chemical Safety in Science Education. (2022, June 30).
Legislation for Classification and Labelling of Chemicals.