9 Quick Lessons About GHS Labels

The GHS is the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. It is regulated by the United Nations so that labels and warnings on chemicals are uniform globally. This is to try to ensure the safety of those who handle potentially dangerous chemicals and materials, but they are only useful if you know what they mean.

1. What are GHS pictograms?

GHS pictograms are pictures placed on the labels of hazardous chemicals. They are uniform depictions that allow people handling these chemicals to understand how harmful the chemicals can be and allow them to take precautions.

2. When are these labels used?

There are two times when GHS pictograms are put to use. These are: to label the containers of dangerous chemicals and to label dangerous chemicals that are in transportation. The symbols used to indicate certain hazards are the same for both labelling purposes, however colours may change between the two and some of the symbols will never be seen for transportation purposes as they do not apply.

3. What do the images look like?

The types of hazards that are indicated in these pictograms can be broken down into three main categories: physical hazards, health hazards, and physical and health hazards. There are nine images in total. The symbols that indicate physical hazards are: an exploding bomb, a flame, a flame over a circle, a gas cylinder, and two test tubes burning a hand and a metal bar.

4. Categories of symbols

The symbols categorized in health hazards are: skull and crossbones, a human silhouette with an explosion occurring in the chest region, and an exclamation point. And the symbols categorized in physical and health hazards are: an image of a fish on land next to a tree and the same test tube image as in the physical hazard section. The symbols that appear on chemicals being transported are the same, but the diamonds are different colours like orange, yellow, red, blue, or green.

5. Physical hazards

The flame symbol warns against flammable chemicals and substances, substances that can heat up on their own and that are subject to fire and/or explosion, especially when exposed to the air, even for short periods of time. The exploding bomb simply means that the substance is subject to explosion under the correct circumstances and that if that substance is heated, it is likely to explode or catch on fire.

6. Fire and burn hazards

These substances are oxidizers which means they can easily cause fires. Oxidizers literally add fuel to a fire and are therefore very hazardous if not handled properly. The test tube symbol means that the chemical is corrosive and can burn your skin, eyes and even eat through metal. The gas cylinder indicates that the substance is a gas under pressure.

7. Health hazards

The exclamation mark symbol indicates that if the chemical comes into contact with the skin or the eyes it will irritate them, that it could induce an allergic reaction when touched, that exposure to this chemical could cause long-term damage to the body or cause death, and that it can cause dizziness, drowsiness and respiratory irritation.

The human silhouette indicates health hazards. It can mean that a substance is cancer-causing, that it is toxic and can cause permanent damage to the respiratory system, organs, and reproductive system, or that it can be damaging to unborn children and cause genetic defects.

8. Toxic hazards

The skull and crossbones are very common, and you’ve probably seen this symbol before and are familiar with what it indicates. The skull and crossbones symbol means that the substance is toxic and should not, under any circumstances, be ingested.

9. Hazards for the ecosystem

The fish on land pictogram indicates that the chemical will be damaging to an aquatic environment or ecosystem.

Ronald Ryan

I'm a self-proclaimed science geek and all-around nerd. Useless fun trivia seems to be my forte. If you ever need to hear a good dad joke, I'm your guy!

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