International initiatives in the area of harmonization of classification and labelling of chemicals started a few years before UNCED. Following a 1989 International Labour Conference resolution, ILO, in consultation with a number of international, regional and national bodies concerned with the classification and labelling of chemicals, initiated action to ensure the establishment of a globally harmonized system and issued a report assessing the magnitude of the task. The report (1992) indicated that four major existing systems should be used as a basis for establishing a harmonized global classification and labelling system. The systems are: the [United Nations Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods] (RTDG); EEC/EU Directive 67/548/EEC, as amended for the seventh time (92/32/EEC), on the approximation of laws, regulations and administrative provisions relating to the classification, packaging and labelling of dangerous substances; the combined system [Toxic Substances Control Act]/Hazard Communication Rule in the USA; and the combined system [Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System/Environmental Protection Act] in Canada.
The United Nations Recommendations were developed by the United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods, which is serviced by the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE). They have been used as a basis for national and international transport regulations/instruments for various modes of transport. There is close cooperation among international transport organizations in this area.
In 1991/92 an OECD clearing-house led by EEC/EU, Sweden and the USA was established to undertake harmonization of classification criteria for acute oral, dermal and inhalation toxicity and hazard to the environment. The overall perception seems to be that these proposals are an acceptable basis for further negotiation and that the impact of expected changes in different systems, including the United Nations recommendations, although not negligible, would be manageable. The OECD clearing-house also elaborated proposals for harmonized criteria for aquatic toxicity based on those developed in the EEC/EU and the Nordic countries. It also made preparations for developing criteria for the soil/terrestrial environment. OECD is preparing work plans to consider harmonization of criteria for categories such as long-term toxic, irritant, sensitizer, carcinogen, mutagen and toxic to reproduction. Preliminary work, at the level of national expert, has started on the categories of carcinogen and toxic to reproduction.
In 1992 the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) Coordinating Group for the Harmonization of Chemical Classification Systems was established, with ILO providing the secretariat. The Group is an informal forum for interested national, regional and international bodies and organizations, including those representing the interests of workers, employers, industries, and bodies concerned with consumer and environmental protection. It has agreed that OECD will be the focal point for harmonization of all human health and environmental effects. ILO will be the focal point for harmonization of physical hazards of chemicals and for hazard communication ie, labelling and chemical safety data sheets.
Other international activities of relevance to this programme area are those undertaken in relation to the implementation of the [ILO Chemicals Convention] (1990) at the national level, FAO guidelines on good labelling practices for pesticides, the peer-reviewed International Chemical Safety Cards of IPCS, and the elaboration of test methods by OECD and the United Nations Committee of Experts. The International Occupational Safety and Health Information Centre of ILO (ILO/CIS) has started to elaborate work plans for the harmonization of hazard communication. In addition, IPCS and ILO/CIS have conducted a preliminary analysis of phraseology used in chemical safety data sheets.