GHS Label Requirements: All You Need To Know

ghs symbols

Understanding the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) is essential for ensuring workplace safety and effective communication of chemical hazards. The GHS is a globally recognized system developed by the United Nations that aims to provide a harmonized framework that allows for consistent communication of hazards across borders and facilitates international trade.

In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has adopted the GHS principles into its Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). The HCS aligns with the GHS to enhance hazard communication and protect workers from the risks associated with hazardous chemicals. OSHA's implementation of the GHS includes specific requirements for labeling, safety data sheets, and employee training.

The Six Elements of GHS Labels

GHS labels consist of six essential elements that provide crucial information about chemical hazards. These elements provide clear visual cues and concise information about the hazards posed by chemicals, ensuring consistent understanding and effective risk mitigation. The 6 key elements include signal words, hazard pictograms, manufacturer information, precautionary statements, hazard statements, and product name.

Signal Words

Signal words are prominent text elements utilized on GHS labels to convey the severity of hazards associated with chemicals. Positioned at the top of the label, these words serve to capture attention, raise awareness, and prompt individuals to take appropriate precautions. The two primary signal words used in GHS labeling are "Danger" and "Warning." "Danger" is employed for more severe hazards, indicating a higher level of risk that may result in serious health effects or fatalities. Conversely, "Warning" is used for less severe hazards, representing a lower level of risk that may cause milder health effects. The differentiation of signal words helps users understand the relative dangers associated with chemicals and select suitable protective measures.

GHS Symbols (Hazard Pictograms)

GHS pictograms are visual symbols used on labels to represent specific types of hazards associated with chemicals. They provide a quick and recognizable means of identifying potential risks to safety and health. Pictograms are designed to transcend language barriers and facilitate universal understanding of hazards. Their purpose is to enhance hazard communication, ensuring that individuals can easily recognize and interpret the nature of the risk presented by a particular chemical. There are various GHS pictograms, each representing a specific hazard category, such as flame, explosion, corrosion, health, and environmental hazards. Examples of GHS pictograms include the flame symbol for flammable substances, the skull and crossbones for acute toxicity, and the exclamation mark for irritants.

GHS pictograms follow standardized shapes, utilizing easily identifiable symbols within a red diamond-shaped border. The colors used in GHS pictograms include black symbols on a white background, with a red border. The standardized shapes and colors help ensure consistency and uniformity across different chemical products and regions.

Manufacturer Information

Manufacturer information plays a crucial role in GHS labeling as it serves two important purposes. Firstly, it provides essential details about the responsible party, allowing for clear identification of the company or entity behind the production or importation of the chemical product. Secondly, it facilitates traceability by enabling users to contact the manufacturer for inquiries, emergencies, or additional information. The placement of manufacturer information on GHS labels is strategically positioned alongside other vital label elements, such as hazard pictograms, signal words, and precautionary statements. This ensures easy visibility and accessibility, meeting regulatory requirements, and promoting product safety and compliance.

Precautionary Statements

Precautionary statements on GHS labels provide essential information on the measures to be taken to prevent or minimize adverse effects from exposure to hazardous substances. They play a vital role in guiding individuals in the safe handling, storage, and use of chemicals. Precautionary statements emphasize the importance of following recommended practices and protective measures to mitigate risks and promote safety. There are several types of precautionary statements, including those related to general prevention, response to exposure, storage, disposal, and first aid. Examples include "Keep away from heat/open flames" (general prevention), "In case of inhalation, move to fresh air" (response to exposure), and "Dispose of contents/container in accordance with local regulations" (disposal).

How to Determine Appropriate Precautionary Statements

Determining the appropriate precautionary statements involves evaluating the hazards associated with the chemical and considering the potential exposure routes and risks. Conducting a thorough hazard assessment and referencing available safety data sheets (SDS) are essential for selecting accurate and relevant precautionary statements.

Hazard Statements

Hazard statements on GHS labels provide concise and standardized descriptions of the nature and degree of hazards associated with a chemical product. They play a crucial role in conveying vital information about potential risks, ensuring effective communication of hazards to users. Hazard statements follow a standardized format, consisting of a designated code and corresponding text, such as "H200: Unstable explosives." They are typically placed below the pictogram(s) on GHS labels, ensuring clear visibility and easy association with the specific hazard(s) represented.

Examples of Common Hazard Statements

  • H225: Highly flammable liquid and vapor
  • H302: Harmful if swallowed
  • H314: Causes severe skin burns and eye damage

Product Name or Identifier

Product names or identifiers on GHS labels serve as essential elements for identification and traceability of chemical products. It provides a clear and concise identification of the chemical, allowing users to quickly recognize the specific substance. Identifiers, such as codes or batch numbers, help in tracking and tracing the product's origin, ensuring quality control and recall management if necessary. These elements assist regulatory authorities, emergency responders, and consumers in identifying the exact chemical product and obtaining accurate information about its composition and potential hazards.

The product name or identifiers are typically positioned prominently on GHS labels, ensuring easy visibility and legibility for users. They are often placed alongside other critical label components, such as hazard pictograms, signal words, and precautionary statements.

GHS Labels: Primary Vs. Secondary Container Labels

GHS labels are essential for effectively communicating chemical hazards. When it comes to labeling, it is important to distinguish between primary and secondary container labels.

Primary Container Labels

Primary container labels are affixed to the original container in which the chemical is packaged by the manufacturer. They provide comprehensive information about the product, including the product name, hazards, pictograms, signal words, precautionary statements, and manufacturer information. Primary container labels ensure that crucial hazard information is readily available at the point of use.

Secondary Container Labels

Secondary container labels are used when transferring a chemical from its original container to a different container for storage or use. They should include, at a minimum, the product name, hazard pictograms, and appropriate precautionary statements. Secondary container labels help maintain hazard communication integrity when chemicals are transferred or decanted.

Labeling Requirements by GHS Hazard Classes

GHS hazard classes include physical and health hazards. Each class requires different types of labeling.

Physical Hazards

Labeling Requirements for Explosives: Explosives are labeled with the appropriate GHS hazard pictogram, which features an exploding bomb symbol. The label includes the corresponding signal word "Danger" to signify the severity of the hazard. Hazard statements, such as "May explode if heated" or "Risk of blast," communicate specific dangers. Precautionary statements, like "Keep away from heat/sparks/open flames," guide safe handling and storage practices.

Labeling Requirements for Flammable Liquids: Flammable liquids are identified with the GHS flame pictogram, indicating their potential to ignite easily. The signal word "Danger" alerts individuals to the high risk associated with these substances. Hazard statements, such as "Highly flammable liquid and vapor," convey the specific hazards posed. Precautionary statements address measures like "Keep away from heat/sparks/open flames" to prevent fire hazards.

Labeling Requirements for Oxidizing Agents: Oxidizing agents bear the GHS oxidizing pictogram, representing their ability to promote combustion. The signal word "Danger" emphasizes the severity of the hazards they present. Hazard statements, such as "Causes fire or intensifies it," communicate the specific risks associated with oxidizing agents. Precautionary statements, like "Keep away from combustible materials," guide safe handling and storage practices.

Health Hazards

Labeling Requirements for Carcinogens: Carcinogens are labeled with the appropriate GHS hazard pictogram, indicating their potential to cause cancer. The label includes the signal word "Danger" to convey the seriousness of the hazard. Hazard statements, such as "May cause cancer" or "Suspected of causing cancer," communicate the specific risks. Precautionary statements address measures like "Avoid breathing dust/fume/gas/mist/vapors" to minimize exposure.

Labeling Requirements for Toxic Substances: Toxic substances are identified with the GHS skull and crossbones pictogram, representing their acute toxicity. The signal word "Danger" alerts individuals to the high toxicity of these substances. Hazard statements, such as "Fatal if swallowed" or "Toxic if inhaled," highlight the specific hazards. Precautionary statements guide safe handling, such as "Wear protective gloves/eye protection" to prevent exposure.

Labeling Requirements for Respiratory Sensitizers: Respiratory sensitizers are labeled with the appropriate GHS hazard pictogram, indicating their potential to cause respiratory sensitization. The signal word "Warning" signifies the moderate hazards associated with these substances. Hazard statements, such as "May cause allergic respiratory reaction" or "May cause allergy or asthma symptoms," communicate the specific risks. Precautionary statements address measures like "Use only outdoors or in a well-ventilated area" to reduce exposure risks.


Timeline for Implementing GHS Labeling

The timeline for implementing GHS labeling may vary based on regional regulations and industry-specific requirements. Many countries have adopted GHS and established deadlines for compliance with labeling standards. Implementation timelines typically involve a transition period for manufacturers, distributors, and users to adopt GHS labeling practices. It is important to stay updated with regulatory guidelines and comply with the designated deadlines to ensure proper hazard communication and safety measures.

Consequences of Non-Compliance

Non-compliance with GHS labeling requirements can result in serious consequences, such as penalties, fines, and legal liabilities. Failure to properly label hazardous substances may lead to accidents, injuries, or health risks for workers and the general public. Non-compliance can also damage a company's reputation, hinder trade relationships, and impede market access. It is crucial for organizations to prioritize compliance to protect their employees, maintain regulatory compliance, and uphold their business integrity.


1. How can I determine the appropriate precautionary statements for my product?
Determining the appropriate precautionary statements for your product involves conducting a thorough hazard assessment. Consider the physical, health, and environmental hazards associated with your product. Review safety data sheets (SDS) and consult relevant regulations and guidelines. This will help identify the specific hazards and required precautionary measures, such as handling, storage, and disposal practices.

2. Are there specific labeling requirements for different hazard classes?
Yes, specific hazard classes outlined in the GHS have distinct labeling requirements. Each hazard class has its own set of hazard pictograms, signal words, hazard statements, and precautionary statements. It is crucial to understand the hazard class of your product and ensure compliance with the corresponding labeling requirements.

3. Do GHS labels need to include supplier identification?
Yes, GHS labels should include supplier identification. This typically includes the name, address, and contact information of the responsible party. Supplier identification helps individuals easily identify and contact the responsible entity in case of inquiries, emergencies, or the need for additional information.

4. What are the challenges of labeling small containers?
Labeling small containers can present challenges due to limited space. Ensuring that all required information, including hazard pictograms, signal words, and precautionary statements, is legible and clearly displayed can be difficult on smaller labels. It is important to use appropriate font sizes and consider alternative labeling methods, such as fold-out labels or supplementary documentation, when dealing with space constraints.

5. Are there any multilingual labeling requirements for GHS labels?
Multilingual labeling requirements may vary depending on regional regulations and market requirements. In some cases, labels may need to be provided in multiple languages to ensure effective hazard communication for diverse populations. It is essential to research and comply with the specific multilingual labeling requirements of the countries or regions where the product will be distributed.

The material provided in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional/legal advice or substitute government regulations, industry standards, or other requirements specific to any business/activity. While we made sure to provide accurate and reliable information, we make no representation that the details or sources are up-to-date, complete or remain available. Readers should consult with an industrial safety expert, qualified professional, or attorney for any specific concerns and questions.


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Author: Herbert Post

Born in the Philadelphia area and raised in Houston by a family who was predominately employed in heavy manufacturing. Herb took a liking to factory processes and later safety compliance where he has spent the last 13 years facilitating best practices and teaching updated regulations. He is married with two children and a St Bernard named Jose. Herb is a self-described compliance geek. When he isn’t studying safety reports and regulatory interpretations he enjoys racquetball and watching his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys.