Navigating GHS adoption in Latin America

Latin American countries vary in how they are implementing the GHS for safer chemical use, transport and disposal. What are the key differences?

by Nidia Mariana Calvo Méndez

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) was first published by the United Nations in 2003. Since then, the GHS has been updated every two years with the 10th edition published last year, and the next update scheduled for 2025.

Thanks to this system of regular revision, the GHS has become an essential building block in the move towards the safe use, transport and disposal of chemicals around the world. However, implementation of the GHS is not consistent, creating challenges for those working in chemicals management.

Latin America is a good example of some of these differences (see below). But before delving into those variations, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the principles behind the GHS.

Why create a GHS in the first place?

The GHS was developed and introduced as a first step towards controlling the handling, transport and use of chemicals, especially those that might be hazardous to health or the environment. The United Nations recognized that there was an extensive global trade in chemicals, coupled with national programs for their control.  The UN therefore set out to have a shared ‘language’ and way of classifying and labelling chemicals, so that there was common understanding across languages and cultures.

The idea was that consistent and appropriate information on chemicals would provide a solid foundation for the development of national infrastructures to control exposure to chemicals.

How does it work?

The GHS classifies chemicals into classes and categories by the type of hazard that they pose.

It also sets out a system for communicating about hazards—that is, informing users about the risks of handling those chemicals. These include labels and safety data sheets (known colloquially as SDSs). Its aim is to ensure that information about the physical hazards and toxicity related to particular chemicals is available and easily understood, so that people and the environment can be protected during their handling, transport and use. This, in turn, allows for harmonized rules and regulations about chemicals across countries and regions, facilitating cross-border trade.

How differences in the GHS evolved

The GHS was originally intended to be the same in all countries. However, countries implementing the GHS are free to adopt it as a whole, or in parts. As a result, there are significant differences between countries and regions in:  

  • the hazard categories implemented; 
  • the hazard and precautionary statements used; and  
  • the format of safety data sheets.

In turn this creates significant challenges for companies operating across several jurisdictions or regions.

GHS implementation in Latin America

Many countries in Latin America have used the GHS as a first step towards a national chemicals management framework, with many adopting and adapting the GHS to fit their own regulations for chemicals. This has created some implementation differences with the international standard.

The table below shows which countries in Latin America have adopted the GHS. It sets out the national regulations that apply, and also the version of the GHS that the country has adopted.

GHS in Latin America

* Following US OSHA GHS implementation

In total, nine countries in the region—Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Peru—have adopted the GHS (or are planning to). However, none are using the most recent 10th update yet—and Ecuador is still using the original version.

Other countries in the region have not published and implemented a GHS regulation. However, they accept and recognize the standard and the hazards identified and communicated through its use.

Latest updates explained

Puerto Rico follows the US Hazcomm 2012 standard. This used the third revision of the GHS. However, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced that the standard will be updated to the seventh revision in the coming months.

Peru, meanwhile, is yet to formally adopt the GHS, so there is no information on which version it will use. However, the government’s Decree 1570 marked the start of a conversation about publishing and implementing a GHS-based regulation. It will also be part of the country’s full implementation of chemicals management regulation.

Elsewhere, both Chile and Colombia aligned their national Chemical Frameworks with the implementation of the GHS in regulations.

In July 2023, Brazil updated its standard to consolidate the four-part standards it previously had, covering definitions, hazard classification systems, labelling and safety data sheets.

The update also includes the renaming of safety data sheets from the current Ficha de Informações de Segurança de Produtos Químicos (FISPQ) to the Portuguese term Ficha com Dados de Segurança (FDS) to provide consistency with the rest of the world.

However, the update may turn out to be resource-heavy as it likely requires changes to every safety data sheet in the country and even 24-hour support for local emergency contact numbers. Companies have two years to comply with the update.

Lack of uniformity

Despite the United Nation’s objectives in creating the GHS–to make chemical use, transport and disposal globally consistent–it’s clear that the situation in Latin American is far from fully harmonized.

The differences noted above are just some of those that exist between Latin American countries in their implementation of the GHS, with more changes to come.

Keeping abreast of global GHS implementation

Staying informed of all requirements is a real challenge for any company operating across Latin America, especially since even the most up-to-date version of the GHS may contradict an earlier version in use in a particular geography.

Enhesa’s GHS Global Regulatory Comparison tool is designed to help organizations navigate this complexity. It is available as part of our Focused Compliance Solution and provides a single user-friendly report of GHS implementation and requirements. This regulatory data tool allows companies to keep track of GHS requirements around the world, including which version is applied in each jurisdiction, making it easy to compare geographies and countries.

Wherever you operate, you will be able to keep up with changes, and have advanced warning of future amendments, making sure that you can always comply with regulatory requirements.  

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