Understanding Chemical Hazard Labels
Regardless of location, manufacturers and suppliers are required to label all hazardous chemicals correctly. Companies can avoid delays in supply—and bureaucratic hassles—by taking the time to place proper labelling on all hazardous chemicals.
The United Nations has a Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) that specifies certain elements and formats that must be included in this process. Developed by the International Labour Organization, the GHS was created to unify global definitions of chemical hazards in terms of health and environment; classify the level of risk posed by certain chemicals, and relay information about these risks and protective measures.
Any company that has involvement in hazardous chemicals should be aware of the GHS system of regulations—regardless of local agency laws for hazardous chemicals—and adequately train employees in these labelling procedures. Doing so will help cut down on potential risks.
For your protection and the safety of those in and around the work site, make sure that employees are trained on the following elements of hazardous chemical labels:
- The type of information included on hazardous chemical labels. This might include a product identifier that tells the chemical name, code or batch number. There are two signal words that show employees the level of threat posed by a chemical: “danger,” which is used for more serious risks, and “warning,” for hazards that are less severe. Labels will also include hazard statements, which explain the nature and/or degree of risk (i.e., which part of the body may be affected, and how this can occur, whether through skin contact or ingestion, etc.). Pictograms, which include a black hazard symbol on a white background with a red diamond frame, also need to be understood by employees; it would be useful to have a reference tool for common pictograms readily accessible for quick identification. Employees should also know the function of precautionary statements that tell what measures to take to minimize or prevent the effects of exposure. All labels must also include the name and contact information (address and phone number) of the chemical’s manufacturer or distributor.
- How the labels are used in the workplace. Don’t assume that employees already know how the information on a hazardous chemical label can help them ensure proper handling and storage, or that they are aware of how to quickly find information pertaining to first aid in the case of contact. Ensure that all employees fully understand the risks and procedures for handling these chemicals. Bear in mind that a worker that uses English as a second language can be better informed through the use of pictures or a translator.
- How label information works together to avoid redundancy. Explain that different pictograms and statements may be used for various hazards; and that in most cases, the precautionary statement that offers the highest level of protection will be used in the case of multiple chemicals. For example, a label that bears the word “danger” would be used if even one of several chemicals carries a high risk, regardless of whether the other chemicals included would warrant a “warning” label.
If you are creating your own custom chemical hazard labels, make sure you use the highest quality of printing and material, so that the labels will be capable of withstanding even the harshest conditions from industrial sites to outdoors. There is a variety of durable labels available that utilize extremely strong adhesives and material, such as vinyl or metal. It is critical to maintain the same level of safety in the long-term, as well as the immediate future.