GHS Blog Post

Chemical Hazard Labels: Do Yours Look Like this Yet?

Hazardous Chemical Label

If you have hazardous chemicals in your workplace, you’ve probably heard about the upcoming changes to OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HazCom or HCS). Beginning in 2015, labels and information sheets for hazardous chemicals will be changing to align with the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System (GHS) that standardizes labels to make communication between countries simpler.

These changes are also intended to make it easier for workers who handle hazardous chemicals to find out pertinent information about those chemicals.

The new GHS requirements include three main changes to the way HazCom has been carried out in the past.

  • Hazard Classification – Hazard definitions have been updated so they will provide specific criteria for the classification of physical and health hazards. This change should help ensure information about the effects of chemicals is consistent.
  • Safety Data Sheets – SDSs will replace MSDSs. The main difference is these new information sheets will include 16 specific sections, making it easier for people to find the information they need quickly.
  • Labels – Updated GHS labels will contain specific signal words, pictograms, hazards statements and precautionary statements so users can find information about the chemicals they are handling quickly.

Today we’re going to take a closer look at the third major change, the updated GHS labels, so you can get a better understanding of what information labels will need to have in the near future. (Chemical manufacturers must comply with updated GHS/HazCom requirements by June 1, 2015, while distributors of chemicals have until December 1, 2015, to be compliant.)

HazCom Standard
Click to see the full GHS implementation timeline.


Hazardous Chemical Label Information

Under GHS guidelines (and new OSHA requirements), labels for hazardous chemicals in the workplace should have six (and in certain cases seven) main parts.

  1. Pictograms – First, each label must have a GHS pictogram, which indicates what kind of hazard a chemical poses. For example, a chemical could be explosive (depicted by an object exploding), toxic (depicted by a skull and crossbones) or corrosive (depicted by a liquid being poured onto a hand). Each pictogram is a black image on a white background surrounded by a red diamond. A complete list of pictograms can be found is this free guide.
  2. Signal Words – These words tell users the level of hazard present. “Danger” is used for more severe hazards, while “Warning” is used for less severe hazards.
  3. Hazard Statements – These standardized phrases describe the hazards a chemical presents. For example, “toxic if swallowed” or “ flammable liquid and vapor” could describe the hazards associated with a particular chemical.
  4. Precautionary Statements – This information expounds on hazard statements by explaining how hazards can be minimized, as well as what first aid would be necessary if a chemical exposure occurred.
  5. Product Identifier (Ingredient Disclosure) – This is the name of the chemical (or chemical ingredients if you’re dealing with a mixture).
  6. Supplier Information – The name, address and phone number of the supplier or manufacturer need to be printed on the label.
  7. Supplemental Information (Optional) – Any information not required by GHS but pertinent to workers or transporters of the chemicals can be included in this section.

GHS Label, Hazardous Chemical Label

A commonly asked question is whether there is a required format for labels. GHS itself doesn’t mandate a specific label format, although it does state that pictograms, signal words and hazard statements must be placed together on the labels. In the example GHS label above, you can see that these three elements are located near each other, and the pictogram and signal word are some of the first label elements you notice.

Installing New GHS Labels

So where exactly do you need labels? Generally, you need to have GHS labels on chemical containers, whether those are the original containers you receive the chemicals in or additional containers you use for storing chemicals. When you receive chemicals from a supplier or manufacturer (beginning Dec. 1, 2015), they should be labeled with compliant GHS labels. After you receive a new chemical, this is a good time to make sure labels for any other containers you’ll be using are updated.

According to OSHA, whenever an employer becomes aware of new information about chemical hazards, they have six months to update existing labels to reflect that information.

Additionally, OSHA recommends using the same type of labels in house that are used on containers when they arrive at your facility. However, it is also permissible to use alternative labeling systems for workplace containers such as National Fire Protection Association labels as long as the information provided by these labels doesn’t have warnings and pictograms that conflict with GHS requirements.

To make sure your chemical labels conform to GHS standards, you’ll likely need to make some new labels. Old HCS guidelines required less specific information on labels than the new standard, and updating old labels might not provide you with labels that are especially legible or clean looking.

Label Printer

You can order new GHS-compliant chemical hazard labels from a vendor or you can make GHS labels yourself using a label printer. Having the option to print labels yourself could make the transition to new labels easier. When a chemical arrives at your facility with a new label, you can make any additional labels you need for storage right away. That way all your labels will be consistent.

The GHS document itself is updated periodically, and OSHA plans to continue updating standards to get the U.S. up to date with newer GHS guidelines. Having the option of printing labels in house could potentially make your life easier if we do end up seeing more changes down the road, too.

For more information about GHS labels, check out this free guide or take a look at the SlideShare below.

GHS – It Is Ready, Are You? from Creative Safety Supply

Additional Resources