GHS Overview


The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, commonly known as GHS, was adopted by consensus in 2003 by the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

The transition to GHS communications standards is a significant task that is requiring manufacturers to re-document and re-label all chemical products by the deadline date for implementation, June 1st 2015.

The GHS labeling standard requires visual, color-coded hazard warnings as part of its aim to make chemical hazard warnings universally understood. The purpose is to overcome the barriers created by the use of different languages and illiteracy, by visually conveying information about chemical hazards and safety measures. The use of the same standard symbols (pictograms) and color codes on chemical labels around the world ensures that workers who handle chemicals during production, transport, or at the point of use will share the same recognition and understanding of the GHS hazard warning system.

GHS labels will consist of a white background inside a red-colored diamond frame, with a black colored symbol printed over the white area. Department of Transportation (DOT) labels will continue to use additional colors and symbols and are not in conflict with the GHS.

Benefits of GHS Label Changes

In all participating countries, GHS will ensure safe management of chemicals through identifying hazards, and communicating them. This will be particularly useful for countries without well-developed regulatory systems.

It will become simpler to export chemical products to foreign markets, and equally straightforward to import them, with no more hurdles of meeting country-specific documentation and testing standards, workplace safety standards, and environmental standards. The initial start-up cost of GHS implementation will be balanced through time and efficiency savings as manufacturing, labeling, and shipping under GHS mandates progress.

GHS will further the protection of human health and the environment. Consistent international hazard communication of GHS standards will inform all users throughout the chemical supply chain to the presence of a hazard. Compliance will also minimize exposure and risk to those hazardous chemicals through safer transportation, handling and use.

Deadlines for Compliance

GHS labeling regulations are now legally required and implemented within the European Union and the majority of countries in Asia; The United States and Canada are in the process of adoption.

Currently, GHS compliant labels are required for pure substance chemical products manufactured, imported, shipped, or advertised within Europe or to Europe. The compliance date for products shipped within the United States and Canada is June 1st 2015.

Required GHS Label Elements

Under GHS regulations, a Product Identifier, Pictogram, Signal Word, Hazard Statement, and Supplier Information must be stated on each chemical product label.

  • Product Identifier

A Product Identifier is the ingredient name or number of the pure chemical substance or chemical mixture. The technical name(s) must be harmonized with IUPAC, CAS and with the technical name(s) listed on the Safety Data Sheet. It must also be harmonized with the UN Proper Shipping Name if the chemical is regulated under the United Nations Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods (UNRTDG). The Product Identifier is meant to prevent accidental or uniformed exposure. A worker, shipper, or supply chain partner must be able to accurately identify the chemical.

  • GHS Pictograms

Each red, black, and white point-set, square-shape pictogram conveys information about particular hazardous risk associated with a chemical. In combination with the Signal Word “Danger” or “Warning”, the pictogram communicates the severity of the risk, and is meant to prevent accidental or uniformed exposure. More than one pictogram may be used on the same chemical label, if applicable. The size of the pictogram, and other label elements, should be proportionate to the physical dimensions of the label.

picture 2

picture 1

  • Signal Words

Either “Danger” or “Warning” needs to be used to emphasize hazards and indicate the relative level of severity of the hazard. “Danger” is for the more severe hazards, and “Warning” for the less severe. Signal words are standardized and assigned to the hazard categories within endpoints. Some lower-level hazard categories do not use signal words. Only one signal word corresponding to the class of the most severe hazard should be used on a label.

  • Hazard Statements

These phrases describe the nature and degree of the hazard posed by the chemical. All hazard statements should be included on the label for a substance/mixture possessing more than one hazard. An example of a hazard statement would be “Heating may cause an explosion”.

  • Precautionary Statement

These statements must be related to the GHS pictogram, and further describe measures that should be taken to minimize or prevent risks associated with the hazard. The number of precautionary statements should be kept to a maximum of six. An example of a precautionary statement would be: “Keep away from heat/sparks/open flames/hot surfaces – no smoking” in relation to a pictogram that shows Explosive Danger and a Hazard Statement such as “Heating may cause an explosion”.

  • Supplier Information

Each chemical container, including secondary packaging such as crates and master cases, must include a GHS label printer with the Supplier Information. This must include the name, address, and telephone number of the manufacturer or supplier of the product.

  • Supplementary Information

The Supplementary Information is additional product information volunteered by the manufacturer, supplier, or other responsible party.

GHS Label Material Standards

GHS imposes packaging material requirements consistent with its safety measures aimed at containing chemical hazards. In order to satisfy GHS label standards for permanence and imperviousness, GHS label substrates must be chemical-resistant, abrasion-resistant, UV light resistant, weather resistant, and must utilize a marine grade label adhesive.

For the transport of dangerous goods by sea, GHS standards require that certain products must meet the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG) certification standard which seeks to prevent pollution resulting from the damage or loss of a chemical transport container at sea. In order to preserve the hazard warning label, IMDG and GHS standards require that labels meet British Standard BS5609 under which printed label materials must survive three months of saltwater submersion without fading, while maintaining adhesion to the container.

Safety Data Sheet Documentation Requirements

The new GHS hazard warning communications system applies to Safety Data Sheets, which are intended to provide information to manage chemical safety in the workplace, as well as product labels. The new sheet format, and new information requirements have been established under EC No. 1272/2008. The new format is similar to the previous ISO, EU, and ANSI safety data sheet format, but has 16 sections, including new sections on ecological impact, disposal considerations, transport information, and regulatory information. Manufacturers must adopt the new GHS SDS format by June 1st 2015.

Printing GHS Labels In-House

Click here to see the Drew & Rogers recommended in house labeling options!

More Information about GHS Labeling and Label Printing:

OSHA Guide to GHS

OSHA Home Page