How to Read GHS Labels

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As in the name, labeling is an essential component to the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. OSHA has updated their HazCom standards to align with GHS and that includes the labeling standard. Containers with hazardous chemicals are required to have a label on them. It also requires chemical manufacturers, importers, or distributors to label chemicals before they leave the facility.

GHS labels have six elements that must be on every label. These elements include the following:

  • Product identifier: This is how the hazardous chemical is identified and people know what chemical they are working with. OSHA allows the product identifier to be a number of things including the chemical name, code number, or batch number. It is important that whatever product identifier you choose is the same as the identifier in the safety data sheet.
  • Signal word: This is a one word statement to immediately communicate how hazardous the chemical is. There are only two words used as signal words: “Danger” and “Warning.” The difference between the two is the level of severity. “Danger” is used on more severe and serious hazards while “Warning” should be used to less severe hazards. A label should only have one signal warning no matter how many hazards may be present. It is important to note lower level hazard categories may not call for a signal word.
  • Hazard pictogram(s): There are nine approved GHS pictograms, but OSHA does only require the use of eight of these pictograms whenever applicable. The GHS standard has an environmental pictogram, but it is not one of OSHA’s required pictograms because they do not have jurisdiction in that area. The other eight pictograms are: Health Hazard, Flame, Exclamation Mark, Gas Cylinder, Corrosion, Exploding Bomb, Flame over Circle, Environment, and Skull & Crossbones. GHS labels can have one pictogram, or multiple depending on the hazards associated with the chemical.
  • Hazard statement: This statement will describe all hazards that are associated with the chemical or substance. The statements wild describe the nature of the hazard and when appropriate, describe the degree of the hazard. All applicable hazard statements must be on the label.
  • Precautionary Statement: It can be argued that the precautionary statement is the most important part of a GHS label. This statement will provide the reader with what steps will need to be taken in case of exposure, or what steps to take in order to minimize exposure. An example of a precautionary statement is “Keep away from heat/sparks/open flames/hot surfaces – No smoking.”
  • Supplier identification: According to OSHA, the name, address, and telephone number of the chemical manufacturer, importer, or other responsible party must also be present on the label.

As you can tell, there are a lot of important components to a GHS label. Learning about GHS labels and how to properly use them in your facility will not only keep you in compliance with OSHA, but also keep your employees and workplace much safer.

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