GHS, Schmee-H-S

Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New Labels

So the deadline has passed and those new labels with the weird little pictures are all over the place. What’s the point?

Good question! First of all, it may help to know that “GHS” stands for “Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals”. That means that the point of these new labels is to make them understandable to everyone everywhere, whether or not they can speak or read the language in which the text of the label is written.

Take this label, for instance:



Now I don’t speak Chinese, let alone read it, and I expect many of you don’t either. But if you look at this label, you will be able to tell that the substance in the container is flammable, and that you should keep it away from heat, sparks, and flame. If it had been a corrosive, you would know that it would burn your skin and eyes, and you should not allow it to touch you – you’d probably want to wear protective gloves and goggles. Or it might have been a poison – everybody understands that skull-and-crossbones symbol – so you don’t want to breathe it in, or eat, drink, or smoke while you’re using it.

Some of the pictorial symbols are less easy to understand, but it is pretty easy to learn their meanings. And then if the label is in your own familiar language, you also have the text to explain the specific hazards and what to do in the case of an accidental overexposure.

Next time: What do those other little weird pictures mean?!

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