Heard of the GHS? Here’s how it will help improve chemical safety on your farm

The Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) came in to effect in New South Wales on 1 January 2017. The GHS is designed to internationally standardise chemical classification.  

Hazardous chemicals such as pesticides and fumigants are used regularly by farmers and farm workers, putting them at risk of potential health effects from chemical exposure.

In fact, anybody who works or lives on a farm where chemicals are stored and/or used can be at risk if regular exposure occurs.

Health effects related to chemicals used in farms can include headaches, blurred vision and sweating, skin problems, blood disorders, memory problems and some cancers.

Tips for working with chemicals on farms:

  • substitute hazardous chemicals for safer alternatives where possible
  • always read the labels on containers which will tell you  how to work safely with them,
  • obtain up-to-date safety data sheets from suppliers and understand the hazard information on the chemicals you work with
  • follow directions to store and handle chemicals
  • stay in the loop about banned products
  • wear the correct protective gear and make sure it fits well
  • consider other ground workers or family who might be exposed via clothing or spray drift
  • inform and alert workers and family about the potential health risks associated with the chemicals you are using
  • talk to your employer if you are unsure of anything
  • talk to your doctor if you notice any changes in your health and tell them what chemicals you work with

Why do we need the GHS?

The introduction of the GHS will benefit and protect farmers who need to know and understand the risks of using particular chemicals in order to work safely with them.

Consulting Toxicologist and Occupational Hygienist Dr. John Edwards, says the newly introduced GHS will help farmers in Australia (and around the globe), easily identify and manage hazardous chemicals.

“The GHS provides a simple, plain English information system which helps farmers to easily identify what is a hazardous material and how they should handle it,” said John.

How will the GHS affect farmers?

Farmers will see a range of benefits in the workplace through the GHS system, including:

  • Reduced chemical risk, with simple communications about hazards and safe handling practices.
  • Being better informed about chemicals to help select safer alternatives
  • Reduced costs to due to fewer accidents and illnesses on farms.

Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (AgVets) in NSW

Importantly for farmers in NSW,  AgVet manufacturers and importers do not have to comply with GHS requirements until 1 January 2018 and AgVet chemicals in the supply chain do not require any re-labelling.

For more information about AgVet compliance head to SafeWork NSW .

Training is key

Dr. John Edwards, says it's essential for farmers to take ownership of their own health and use safe handling practices when working with chemicals on the farm.

For John, this starts with education and training.

“Farmers need to know the risks associated with each chemical they use, not just for themselves but also for their family, the community and the environment,” he said.

Both AusChem and Chemcert provide a range of training and industry accreditation for farmers around the use of AgVet chemicals.

So, what do the changes look like?

Keep an eye out for these key features of the new system:

  • Signal words – there are two key words to describe a chemical hazard level. These are ‘DANGER’ or ‘WARNING’.
  • Labels - Changes to labels include simple hazard and precautionary statements.
  • Safety Data Sheets (SDS) - The SDS provide extensive information on the chemical product under 16 headings used across the world now.
  • Pictograms - The GHS uses nine standard symbols which represent the physical, health and environmental hazards (see below).

GHS pictogram

Examples of GHS Pictograms with any equivalent ADG diamonds

It is crucial that everyone working with chemicals familiarise themselves with the GHS. For more information, check out SafeWork NSW’s GHS fact sheet.