GHS Chemical Labeling Requirements (2022): A Complete Guide
What is GHS Labeling?
GHS stands for Globally Harmonized System. It's an international standard for chemical labeling and classification. Through a combination of GHS pictograms, basic warnings, and precautionary instructions, these chemical labeling requirements create a universal hazard communication system that ensures internationally traded chemicals come with the safety information everyone needs.
GHS label requirements were developed by the United Nations and have been adopted by over 65 countries. The US adopted GHS by revising OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) and integrating them into their chemical labeling requirements.
GHS Label Requirements
GHS labels for chemicals have 6 required parts, detailed below.
Manufacturers or suppliers must put a GHS-compliant label on all primary chemical containers – in other words, the ones used for distribution. Direct container labels must be left in place by the destination facility – you're not allowed to remove, alter, or deface them. If they need to be replaced, you'll need a label with the same information as the original.
Secondary containers, like spray bottles or jugs for the chemical's intended use, also need a GHS label. The only exception is when a worker transfers the material for use during their work shift, and they retain possession of the container the entire time.
GHS doesn't have many formatting requirements for labels. You must ensure that the text is easily readable, sections are separated, and elements don't overlap.
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Required GHS Label Elements
Three of these parts are "standardized," which means there are exact rules for what goes where and how. The other three are "harmonized," which means they're required, but there's some leeway in how and where they appear.
Standardized GHS Label Elements
The three standardized elements of a GHS label are designed to provide a clear, universal indication of the risks.
These standardized elements must be displayed prominently at the top of the label and "in a way that can be read from a distance," but how this is achieved – like through font size or emphasis – is at the labeler's discretion.
A GHS signal word is meant to catch attention and indicate the severity of the threat.
There are only two options for the signal word on a GHS label:
- DANGER indicates the most severe health or safety consequences possible.
- WARNING indicates a lower level of threat.
The conditions that trigger the choice between "danger" and "warning" is also standardized – you'll find the appropriate hazard severity in the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) that is also required (and standardized) under the Globally Harmonized System.
Only the most serious label is used if a chemical has two associated hazards, one severe and one less so.
GHS Symbol(s) / Hazard Pictogram(s)
GHS pictogram labels provide at-a-glance information about the type of hazard a chemical presents. This makes it easier to ensure that chemical containers are handled and stored with the appropriate precautions.
There are 9 standardized GHS labeling pictograms to choose from, but the label should use ALL symbols that apply, unlike signal words. All GHS pictograms must be diamond-shaped with a thick red border, a white background, and a black symbol in the center.
[table of symbols]
While the first two standardized elements provide broad strokes at a glance, training is required to understand their exact meaning. That's why hazard statements, as the third standardized element, are short written statements designed to be straightforward, concise, and valuable to anyone.
You can't just write anything in the hazard statement spot – several dozen standardized phrases can be used based on the chemical's H-code(s). Some can be tailored to indicate specific organs or exposure routes. Like pictograms, one GHS label should carry as many hazard statements as needed.
You can find a chemical's required hazard statements on the SDS, and a complete list is available in Annexes 1-2 of the GHS Purple Book.
Harmonized GHS Label Elements
The harmonized elements on a GHS label are mandatory, but their content and format are more flexible.
Precautionary Statements/First Aid
Precautionary statements expand on the hazard statement to provide specific, actionable information that spells out preventative measures, emergency response / first aid instructions, and the best practices for storage and disposal.
You can determine the appropriate precautionary statements on the chemical's SDS. You can find all precautionary statements according to their corresponding P-code(s) in Annex 3 of the GHS Purple Book.
Product Name or Identifier
The product identifier, like the chemical name, must be included prominently on the label. It also needs to match the identifier on the accompanying SDS. All dangerous substances should be included when the product is a mixture or alloy.
Additional technical or manufacturer-specific identifying information – like the product code or batch number – can be listed to the right of the supplier's identity.
The final GHS label requirement is the supplier's information. It needs to have the company name, address, and phone number so that it's easy for anyone to contact them with questions or concerns.
What Is Not Required on a Chemical Label?
GHS labels for chemicals are entirely safety-driven. Every chemical labeling requirement is related to accurately identifying the contents and communicating how to handle the chemicals safely.
GHS labels don't require any information that doesn't serve one of those purposes. For example, GHS labels don't need to have the general uses of the chemical because that's not relevant to safety. And while the manufacturer's information is required as a source of safety information, you don't need to put your facility's information anywhere on the label.
That isn't to say you can't put that info on the container. It's just not one of the GHS label requirements.
GHS allows for "supplemental label information" that isn't required, standardized, or harmonized with their guidelines. Supplemental label information can't contradict the required GHS information.
Learn More About GHS Pictogram Labels & HazCom Requirements
OSHA requires all employees with potential exposure to hazardous chemicals in the workplace to complete training the Hazardous Communication Standard.
The easiest way to meet this requirement is by taking an online course with an OSHA-authorized training provider like us. Our GHS and Hazardous Communication course covers the GHS label requirements we discussed above in greater depth. You'll also learn about Safety Data Sheets, hazard classifications, methods for controlling specific hazards, and much more.
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