2.1.1 Hazardous chemicals

Until 2002, there were several international schemes and definitions for describing chemicals with hazardous properties affecting people, the environment and assets. Under the auspices of the UN Economic Commission for Europe, an agreed set of protocols was approved to enable a consistent and transparent approach to classifying hazards of chemicals, known as the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). Footnote 1 The book and testing protocols are revised periodically, so it is advisable to check the GHS website for the current information.

The GHS classification system has criteria for health, safety and environmental hazards. The criteria can be used to apply to minerals, chemicals, chemical mixtures and wastes.


  • Acute toxicity—oral, dermal, inhalation
  • Skin corrosion/irritation
  • Serious eye damage/irritation
  • Respiratory sensitisation
  • Mutagenicity
  • Carcinogenicity
  • Reproductive toxicity
  • Specific target organ toxicity (STOT)—single exposure
  • Specific target organ toxicity (STOT)—repeated exposure


  • Aquatic acute toxicity
  • Aquatic chronic toxicity
  • Potential for or actual bioaccumulation
  • Biodegradation (biotic or abiotic) for organic chemicals

Safety/physical hazards

  • Explosive solids
  • Oxidising solids
  • Flammable solids—readily combustible
  • Flammable solids—self-reactive
  • Flammable solids—pyrophoric substances
  • Flammable solids—self-heating
  • Flammable solids—self-heating—solids which evolve into flammable gas when wet
  • Corrosive to metals.

These criteria are important in workplace transport, storage, use and handling of hazardous chemicals. In addition, they determine which chemicals require management plans to ensure the proper worker exposure controls, health surveillance, and the disposal of waste and hazardous chemicals that may cause unacceptable risk.

The GHS has now been adopted by Safe Work Australia as the basis for classification, safety data sheets and labels of chemicals and mixtures, including those that are mineral based. The GHS will be mandatory after 31 December 2016. Footnote 2

Mining and mineral/metal processing companies should ensure that new products such as mineral concentrates are tested and have a full report on the GHS classification hazards to meet the current legislative requirements.


Footnote 1
GHS, http://www.unece.org/trans/danger/publi/ghs/ghs_welcome_e.html.

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Footnote 2
Safe Work Australia, http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/swa/whs-information/hazardous-chemicals/pages/hazardous-chemicals-other-substances.

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