GHS Implementation A Plus, But Could Present Challenges

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Minister of the Environment and Drainage, Dr. Denis Lowe

The implementation of the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) could result in fewer chemical-related accidents, improved protection for workers and the creation of safer home environments.

This was underlined by Minister of the Environment and Drainage, Dr. Denis Lowe, as he addressed the opening ceremony of the National GHS workshop at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre today.

But, he pointed out that, "where there is great benefit to be had, there are even greater obstacles to overcome; and the implementation of the GHS in Barbados will present challenges".

In explaining the GHS concept to stakeholders, the Minister said: "It is a tool for communicating the hazards of chemicals to users in a clear and consistent manner. This would allow us to make informed decisions regarding how we use chemicals and thereby reduce risks to the environment and to ourselves."

However, Dr. Lowe explained that there would be challenges in the area of legislation, coordination and behavioural change.

As it relates to legislation, the Minister highlighted the fact that there were no statutes that directly addressed the requirements of the GHS, and those that did exist had weak punitive provisions. In addition, he said, some of the Barbados National Standards stipulated requirements for chemical labels were in conflict with the requirements of the GHS.

In terms of their coordination, he indicated that there was a lack of clarity of the roles amongst stakeholders "in and outside of Government", and a lack of information sharing. "There is also limited involvement of civil society in chemical management issues resulting in available expertise, knowledge and information being under utilised", he disclosed.

The Environment Minister also told stakeholders that a survey revealed that people generally relied on their own knowledge and experience to determine how they handled chemicals rather than using information on labels or Safety Data Sheets. Furthermore, he stressed that some people were not even aware that preventative measures, emergency responses and storage instructions were available on labels.

"The challenge, therefore, will be to devise suitable public awareness and education initiatives that are sustainable to effect behavioural change and acceptance of the GHS," Dr. Lowe pointed out.

He noted that Cabinet had already taken a decision to establish the Chemical Management Advisory Group to help strengthen the coordination of chemicals management in Barbados.

"The goal of sound management of chemicals in Barbados cannot be achieved without assistance of everyone gathered here. Let us work together – Government and the civil society – to protect human health and the environment from the negative impacts of chemicals by effectively implementing the GHS," the Minister stressed.

He also advised stakeholders attending the workshop to develop concrete action plans to find solutions to the challenges being presented.

julia.rawlins-bentham@barbados.gov.bb

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