Dealing with chemicals and hazardous substances poses numerous life-threatening risks. Therefore, to ensure workplace safety and proper hazard communication, the United Nations developed the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).
GHS is an internationally agreed-upon system for standardising and harmonising hazard communication, classification, and labelling of hazardous chemicals. The system uses labels and safety data sheets that share essential hazard information and protective measures.
GHS labels have specific requirements for the content that must be adhered to communicate hazard information effectively. This article will provide an in-depth overview of GHS label requirements.
Elements of GHS Labels
GHS mandates certain elements to be presented on the label for proper hazard communication.
There are six key elements in a GHS label.
- Signal Word
- GHS Symbols (also called GHS Pictograms or Hazard Pictograms)
- Hazard Statement
- Manufacturer Information (also called Suppliers Information)
- Precautionary Statement
- Product Identification
GHS has divided these six elements into two categories.
- Standard Label Elements
- Harmonized Label Elements
Standard label elements are pre-defined and must be exactly according to the regulations provided by GHS. GHS does not specify a format, although standard label elements should be listed together on the label.
Standard label elements include.
- Signal Word
- GHS Symbols
- Hazard Statements
Harmonized label elements are those elements that are not pre-defined and are added to the label according to the product or process. These elements will look different based on use cases but must be present in some way or another.
Harmonized label elements have no specified formate or rule of placement. However, they should be arranged in a way that makes sense and is easy to understand without interfering with the legibility and clarity of the label.
Harmonized label elements include.
- Manufacturer Information
- Precautionary Statement
- Product Identification
Apart from standard and harmonized label elements, there is an optional element to be included on the label. This element is called Supplemental Information. We have covered the supplemental information element in detail in the later part of this blog post.
Standard Label Elements
Signal words are used to represent the level of severity of a hazard. They are printed in bold with large font sizes to catch the reader’s attention.
There are two signal words used on labels.
Within a specific hazard class, “Danger” is used to signal severe life-threatening hazards, while “Warning” is used to signal less severe hazards.
It’s important to note that even though a chemical has multiple hazards, only one signal word will appear on the label.
So, if one hazard warrants a “Danger” signal word and another requires a “Warning” signal word, then the label will only bear the “Danger” signal word.
Please refer to our GHS signal words guide to understand when to use “Danger” and “Warning” signal words.
GHS symbols are pictograms used for communicating specific hazard information associated with a product. The GHS system consists of nine pictograms divided into three categories.
- Health Hazards
- Fire and Explosion Hazards
- Chemical and Environmental Hazards
A GHS hazard symbol is presented in a diamond shape with a black hazard pictogram on a white background.
Please refer to our hazard sign guide for more information on GHS hazard symbols and their meaning.
Hazard statements are a set of standardized phrases that describe the nature and the degree of severity of the hazard(s). They are briefly written to warn the reader about potential harm and the consequence of mishandling.
Hazard statements are also identified by a code that starts with the letter H and is followed by three numerical digits. This code is called H-Code and is used for reference purposes.
The H-code is divided into three categories.
- H200 series (H2xx) – represents physical hazards
- H300 series (H3xx) – represents health hazards
- H400 series (H4xx) – represents environmental hazards
GHS has made it mandatory to state all applicable hazard statements (and not H-codes) on the label. However, these statements are allowed to be combined to reduce redundancies and improve readability as required.
Please note that the GHS has standardized hazard statements; therefore, they must be written as GHS lists them. GHS hazard statements are found in Annexes 1 & 2 of the GHS purple book.
Please refer to our GHS hazard statement guide for more information.
Harmonized Label Elements
Manufacturer information is a section that provides the contact information of the manufacturer, supplier, importer, or another party responsible for the container and its contents.
Manufacturer information should include.
- Telephone number
Manufacturer information gives a direct way to get in touch with the responsible party in case of an emergency or any questions arise.
Precautionary statements are a set of standardized phrases that describe recommended measures to minimize or prevent adverse effects from exposure to a hazardous chemical due to direct contact, improper storage or handling. These statements also include the first aid measures that should be taken in case of accidental exposure.
Precautionary statements are also identified by a code. The code for precautionary statements starts with the letter P and is followed by three numerical digits. This code is called P-Code and is used for reference purposes.
The P-code is divided into five categories:
- P100 series (P1xx) – represents general statements
- P200 series (P2xx) – represents prevention statements
- P300 series (P3xx) – represents reaction statements
- P400 series (P4xx) – represents storage statements
- P500 series (P5xx) – represents disposal statements
Like the hazard statement, GHS has made it mandatory to state all applicable precautionary statements (not P-codes) on the label. However, these statements are allowed to be combined to save space, reduce redundancies and improve readability as required.
GHS precautionary statements are present in Annex 3 of the GHS purple book.
Product identification is a section that states the identity of the hazardous substance. This is usually done using the chemical name, code number, or batch/lot number.
Please note that GHS does not provide a standard format for product identification. It is up to the manufacturer, importer, or distributor to decide what appropriate product identifier to use. However, the chosen product identifier should be the same on the label and in section 1 of the SDS (Safety data sheet).
Supplemental information is an optional element on a GHS label where extra information or instructions can be provided. This section is mainly used for providing necessary instructions or warnings according to local regulations or laws.
Supplemental information could include but is not limited to.
- Direction of use
- Additional handling and storage instructions
- Prevention of misuse
- Expiration date/Shelf life
- Percentage of ingredient(s)
Supplemental information is neither standardized nor harmonized by the GHS; however, it can be extremely useful if mentioned. There is no set format or layout for GHS supplemental information; manufacturers can decide how and what kind of information should be provided in this section.
However, GHS has certain requirements for the supplement section to limit its usage. According to GHS, supplement information should only be mentioned in the following circumstances.
- The section provides additional details than what is already provided in the hazard and precautionary statements.
- The information provided does not contradict, detract or cast doubt on any of the mandatory GHS label elements.
- The information provides details about chemical safety or hazards not yet incorporated into the GHS.
Globally Harmonised System Label Format
GHS does not provide a standard format or layout to be followed when placing different elements on a GHS label. However, some basic parameters should be considered while labelling hazardous chemicals.
Here are some general label design specifics that must be followed when designing a GHS label.
- All information mentioned on the label should be easily visible, legible, and understandable.
- The three standardized label elements, namely the signal word, GHS symbols, and hazard statement, should be prominently displayed at the top of the label, ensuring they are visible from a distance.
- GHS label elements should be placed in a logical manner such that they don’t overlap or cover one another.
- The label must be large and conspicuously placed outside the container where it can be easily seen and accessed.
- All information should be written in the same language to ensure uniformity.
- The label should not include any additional text or images that could distract or detract from the proper understanding of GHS label elements.
- GHS label should be revised within six months if new information or data is obtained concerning the product’s hazards, potentially affecting GHS/HazCom compliance.
Apart from the above-mentioned GHS label design specifics, some common label design etiquettes should be followed to ensure effective GHS labelling. Please refer to our guide on best practices for designing labels for more information.
GHS has provided some examples related to the arrangement of GHS label elements. These examples are mentioned in the Annex 7 of the GHS purple book.
What Type of Containers Require GHS Labelling?
There are two containers requiring GHS labelling; Primary and Secondary.
Primary containers are large containers like barrels, boxes, or drums that contain chemicals or hazardous materials. These containers are typically used to store, transport, and dispense chemicals. Primary containers are received directly from the manufacturer.
Secondary containers are smaller containers like bottles, cans, buckets, or vials containing a single chemical unit, generally filled from the primary container. These containers are used to repackage the chemical for individual use or retail sale. Secondary containers receive their labels from the primary container’s labelling information.
Please note that both primary and secondary containers require a GHS-compliant label to inform the users of the potential hazards of the chemical material.
What if the Primary and Secondary Containers are Too Small to Label?
If the primary and secondary containers of the chemical are too small to have GHS-compliant labels, the following alternatives can be used.
- Attaching pull-out labels or tags
- Providing multi-page fold-out labels
- Adding a booklet label of up to 56 pages
Even if none of these alternatives is feasible, manufacturers are permitted to display the complete label information outside the packing box or shipping carton.
GHS labels play an important role in ensuring safe chemical handling. By following the GHS labelling requirements, manufacturers can ensure that their labels comply with relevant international standards and regulations.
Label designing and printing is a challenging task. Several things, such as label size, font size & style, colours, and element placement, should be considered while designing a GHS label.
So, to help you with the entire label designing and printing process, Triton offers you versatile software called BarTender. BarTender software enables you to create and print GHS-compliant labels quickly and accurately. The software will also help automate your label printing process, ensuring efficient product labelling.
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We hope this article has given you some valuable insights into GHS labels and their specific labelling requirements. Thanks for reading!