News & Thinking

Open for consultation – an update to the classification system for hazardous substances

Contributed by:

Olivia Welsh
Special Counsel

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Olivia Welsh

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently seeking public submissions on the proposed adoption in New Zealand of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) Revision 7 (2017).

What’s happening?

The EPA is responsible for regulating hazardous substances under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996, and is proposing to update New Zealand’s current hazardous substance classification systems to GHS Revision 7.

The GHS was developed by the United Nations and is an internationally agreed system for classifying and communicating information about hazardous substances through labels and safety data sheets. Under the GHS, chemicals are classified with reference to their physical, health, and environmental hazards.

The EPA wants New Zealand to adopt Revision 7 of the GHS so we are aligned with our international trading partners. This will reduce complexity for businesses dealing with hazardous substances, improve hazardous substances management, and (according to the EPA) facilitate trade.

While GHS Revision 7 is expected to create significant long term benefits, the EPA recognises that adopting it and updating existing practices to the newer system will also create costs for businesses. As a result, the EPA is seeking public feedback and suggestions on how it can minimise issues arising from adoption of the updated classification system.

The EPA’s consultation document is available on its website here and explains five specific proposals the EPA is seeking the public’s views on. These are to:

  • update the existing HSNO classification system by issuing a new EPA Classification Notice that will incorporate the GHS 7 by reference
  • deal with the application of the GHS 7 building blocks as follows:
    • not adopt acute toxicity Category 5 (HSNO 6.1E)
    • not adopt skin irritation Category 3 (HSNO 6.3B)
    • not adopt aspiration hazard Category 2
    • adopt all seven categories for aquatic toxicity (i.e. Acute 1–3 and Chronic 1-4 (HSNO 9.1A–D))
  • include the lower concentration cut-off values in the Classification Notice where the GHS 7 provides for optional concentration cut-off values for classification of mixtures
  • replace the current HSNO classification subclasses for terrestrial ecotoxicity (9.2, 9.3 and 9.4) and 9.1D biocides with a classification category “substances that are ecotoxic in the terrestrial environment”, which will be applied only to agrichemicals or related substances
  • include an additional two-year transitional period in the EPA Labelling Notice, Safety Data Sheet Notice, and Packaging Notice to allow those impacted to make any necessary changes resulting from the re-issuing of approvals and updating to the GHS 7.

Who will this affect?

The businesses most likely to be affected by, or interested in, the proposed introduction of GHS Revision 7 are:

  • importers, suppliers, and manufacturers who sell or use hazardous substances
  • applicants for new hazardous substances approvals
  • producers of safety data sheets.

If you’re not sure if this affects you, it’s time to get some expert advice.

Have your say

If you would like to have your say on any of the matters covered in the EPA’s consultation document, you can make submissions using an online form available on the EPA’s website here.

If you need a hand, our health and safety lawyers can help you understand the issues and prepare a submission. Submissions close at 5pm on 9 January 2020.

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