The Complete Guide to GHS Labels and Compliance Requirements

Following safety protocols are crucial for all businesses. For companies that use hazardous chemicals in secondary containers, manufacture or supply products that include hazardous chemicals, meeting the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) label guidelines should be one of the top items on the agenda.

What Are the Elements of a GHS Label?

GHS labels have been adopted by many countries around the world and are required for the “ classification of health, physical and environmental hazards, as well as specifying what information should be included on labels of hazardous chemicals

To comply with the regulations, all GHS labels must include the following elements:

  • Product identifier – Including the name of the substance itself as well as a list of the hazardous ingredients.
  • Supplier identification – Must provide details of the supplier, including name, address, and telephone number.
  • Signal word – Either ‘DANGER’ or ‘WARNING’ in block capitals.
  • Hazard pictogram – Must use universally recognized images to detail the warnings.
  • Hazard statements – Must use standardized phrasing to detail the hazards associated with the product in question.
  • Precautionary statements – Must use standardized phrasing to detail the steps required to minimize or prevent the potential dangers.

If any of these elements are missing, the product label will fail to comply with the GHS framework.

GHS Label Requirements

GHS label requirements are a set of agreed hazard classifications as detailed in the “Purple Book.” While they are not legal regulations, companies using this framework must satisfy all elements.

The GHS labeling processes cover all hazardous chemicals, defined as “substances, products, mixtures, preparations, or any other terms that may be used by the existing system,” with no chemical being exempt from the requirements.

Sizing and dimensions are among the other vital features of GHS labeling. The expectations do vary from country to country. In the United States (and Canada), there are no specific size requirements relating to the fonts, pictograms, or GHS labels themselves. However, they must comply with general practices. This includes having a label that is sized in proportion to the package as well as a prominent position.

Secondary container GHS Labeling requirements

Chemical labeling isn’t only for consumer products. It is designed to support companies and their employees too, which is why GHS labels are extended to secondary containers. Secondary containers are any container holding a product that is not the original container supplied by the manufacturer.

In the United States, companies must meet the OSHA’s HCS relating to the transfers of chemicals from the original containers to secondary containers. Requirements stipulate that labels will be required when:

  • The compound is not being used within the same work shift as the person who made the transfer from primary to a secondary container.
  • The individual who made the transfer leaves the working environment.
  • The container is moved out of the transferee’s sight or to another workspace.

If any of those situations occur, GHS compliant labels must be fixed to the secondary containers.

GHS Hazard Pictograms & LabelsHazard pictograms are a central focus of GHS labels.

Hazard pictograms are a central focus of GHS labels. The visual elements can display one or more of nine different pictograms. They are:

  • Acute toxic – Identifies skin and eye irritants, as well as materials that pose acute toxicity and potential narcotic effects.
  • Corrosion – Identifies corrosive chemicals that can cause damage to the skin and eyes.
  • Environmental – Identifies risks of aquatic toxicity, although this isn’t a mandatory requirement in the U.S.
  • Explosives – Identifies self-reactive, and organic peroxides as well as explosives.
  • Flame – Identifies flammable chemicals and self-healing materials, as well as those, emit combustible gases.
  • Gas Cylinder – Identifies pressurized gasses.
  • Health Hazard – Identifies carcinogens and respiratory sanitizers, in addition to reproductive toxicity risks.
  • Oxidizing – Identifies oxidizers, depicted by an “O” over a flame.
  • Severe Toxic – Identifies acute toxicity and potentially fatal toxicity. A skull and crossbones depict them.

Any product that poses any of the above risks must indicate it through the pictograms.

GHS Pictogram Labels

GHS pictograms are used to provide clear and immediate access to crucial data relating to the dangers posed by a particular product, resolving problems caused by language barriers to offer universal safety understanding.

The pictograms must be shown transparently while the dimensions should be about the size of the labels. If a product is considered dangerous on more than one front, it must show all of the appropriate pictograms.

What Required Information Must GHS Labels Include?

The use of GHS labels is designed to help all users (employees, distributors, clients, etc.) stay safe by avoiding potential hazards caused by the chemicals in question. Since June 1, 2015, all shipped hazardous chemicals have been bound by the framework.

GHS chemical labels must, therefore, tick all of the following boxes.

  • GHS labels must be printed to the right size according to the size of the package or container.
  • GHS labels must show pictograms relating to any of the nine dangers listed.
  • GHS labels must clearly define all hazardous chemicals within the product.
  • GHS labels must list all-clear text elements such as a warning, details of the supplier/manufacturer, preventive steps, and recommended response to exposures to the product.

The GHS labels may also contain supplementary information, listing the percentage of ingredient(s) of unknown acute toxicity among other features that may be deemed beneficial for the user to know.

What Is the Use of Safety Data Sheets?

In addition to the GHS product labels, the regulations stipulate that all companies working with hazardous chemicals and other hazardous substances must also supply Safety Data Sheets. “SDSs are required to be presented in a consistent, user-friendly, 16-section format”. The 16 sections required by GHS and adopted by OSHA are as follows:

  • Section 1 – Identification
  • Section 2 – Hazard(s) Identification
  • Section 3 – Information on Ingredients (Composition)
  • Section 4 – First Aid Measures
  • Section 5 – First Fighting Measures
  • Section 6 – Accidental Release Measures
  • Section 7 – Handling & Storage
  • Section 8 – Exposure Controls & Personal Protection
  • Section 9 – The Physical & Chemical Properties
  • Section 10 – Stability & Reactivity
  • Section 11 – Toxicological Information
  • Section 12 – Ecological Information
  • Section 13 – Disposal Considerations
  • Section 14 – Transport Information
  • Section 15 – Regulatory Information
  • Section 16 – Other Information

All 16 sections of the SDS expectations are clearly defined in full detail. When the guidelines are used effectively, the SDS will cover every aspect of health and safety information.

Cost-Effective GHS Label Printing

While the GHS framework is built to promote consistency, it’s wrong to assume that there is a one-size-fits-all solution. The requirements can vary from company to company and product to product. Several essential elements should be considered by any company needing GHS label printing, including but not limited to:

  • How big do the labels need to be about the product packaging size?
  • How many copies of the GHS label are needed?
  • Which printing method and material is the right solution for the type of product?
  • Are SDS forms included?

There are various options available, but most businesses find that booking a consultation with an expert that specializes in the GHS label printing arena is the right approach to take. This offers an opportunity to discuss the specific needs of the project before finding the most suitable solution based on this data.

OSHA 2012 Hazard Communication Standard

Revised in 2012, the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) extends beyond the need for GHS labeling and SDS information. The set of standards is built to promote safety across the entire spectrum of worker’s occupational health and safety.

The HCS is fully aligned with the GHS guidelines. It states that companies must evaluate the hazards relating to the chemicals they produce while also placing a heavy focus on the needs of employee safety. Hazard classification follows a defined set of criteria while employers are also expected to train users so that all materials can be handled safely and suitably.

Development of the Globally Harmonized System

The GHS frameworks have been established for nearly two decades, but the development of the Globally Harmonized System can be dated back to 1992. The international mandate was adopted after the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED) meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and set out to produce a guideline that could replace the independent rulings governed by individual countries.

General development of the systems was ready for adoption as early as 2003, but it took almost 15 years for widespread adoption. The GHS standards have been updated with revisions every two years, with the most recent coming in 2019 – known as Rev.8.

Among the updates in Rev.8 was the addition of the precautionary statement “Keep out reach of children.” Also, there are new classification criteria, hazard communication elements, decision logics and guidance for chemicals under pressure. Most updates are minor adjustments but offer manufacturers even higher guidance.

GHS Pictograms and Chemical Hazard Labels

The role of GHS pictograms and chemical hazard labels is to provide employees handling those chemicals (including clients and distribution teams) with clear information about the various hazards posed by a substance as well as details on safe handling the materials.

In addition to issuing those above universally accepted pictograms, “ each GHS pictogram consists of a distinctive black symbol appearing on a white background framed inside a red diamond-shaped border.” This ensures that all labels offer clarity while users are familiarized with the designs and layouts. Knowing what to look for makes a huge positive safety impact.

GHS: Labeling Your Hazardous Chemicals Properly

The process of labeling hazardous chemicals properly had undergone some change in recent times, leading to some confusion among manufacturers – particularly those that were using labels before June 1, 2015, when the new labeling processes came into effect.

One of the significant changes revolves around the type of labels that can be used. Until 2015, blank thermal-transfer labels or direct-thermal labels could be used while black and white printing were also permitted. It was also possible to order pre-printed templates before filling in the Hazardous Materials Identification System (HMIS) boxes with the relevant details.

Since the changes came into place, though, it is necessary to use GHS labels that comply with the regulations. As well as the content, they should be printed on appropriate materials. The most common solutions are:

Thermal transfer black and white printed labels with pre-printed GHS compliant two-color pictograms (black images with a red border).

How Do Transport Labels Differ from Standard GHS Labels

While most manufacturers focus primarily on GHS labels needed in working environments, companies must also acknowledge their responsibilities during the transportation of chemicals. A whole different set of labels are required for transportation.

The transportation hazard labels use color-coded pictograms for even easier digestion of the universally understood information:

Explosives (all orange pictograms)

  • Division 1.1 – Substances with mass explosion hazards.
  • Division 1.2 – Substances with projection hazard.
  • Division 1.3 – Substances with fire hazards and a minor blast or projection hazard.
  • Division 1.4 – Substances defined as explosives but with no explosion hazard.
  • Division 1.6 – Substances with no hazard statement.


  • Division 2.1 – Flammable gases. Red sign. Gases that could be flammable at 20 °C and 101.3 kPa.
  • Division 2.2 – Non-flammable non-toxic gases. Green sign. Gases that are asphyxiant or oxidizing.
  • Division 2.3 – Toxic gases. White sign. Gases that are known or suspected to be toxic or corrosive to humans.

Flammable Liquids & Solids

  • Division 3 – Flammable liquids with a flashpoint of under 60°C. Red sign.
  • Division 4.1 – Flammable solids and substances that are deemed readily combustible. Red and white vertical stripes sign.
  • Division 4.2 – Spontaneously combustible substances. White and red (horizontal split) sign.
  • Division 4.3 – Substances that emit flammable gases when in touch with water. Blue sign.

Other GHS Transport Gases

  • Division 5.1 – Oxidizing substances. Yellow sign.
  • Division 5.2 – Organic peroxides. Red and yellow (horizontal split) sign.
  • Division 6.1 – Toxic substances with LD50 values of ≤ 300 mg/kg, ≤ 1000 mg/kg, or ≤ 4000 ml/m3 depending on the material. White sign.
  • Division 8 – Corrosive substances. Black and white (horizontal split) sign.

Do Secondary Containers Need GHS Labels?

OSHA requires secondary containers to provide users with clear information if any of the stipulations regarding shifts and personnel are not satisfied. While a full GHS label is the most common option, it’s not the only possible solution.

If a GHS label isn’t present, a product identifier may be used instead. This should include “ words, pictures, symbols, or a combination thereof, which provide at least general information regarding the hazards of the chemicals.”

Are GHS Labels Required for Non-Hazardous Materials?

OSHA rulings stipulate that only hazardous materials require GHS labels. So, if the chemical or compound mixture is not deemed by GHS definitions to be hazardous, it isn’t’ necessary to add a GHS label.

However, it is beneficial to state its non-hazardous status clearly. Adding the line “not classified as hazardous according to GHS” is useful. Meanwhile, manufacturers should also list other obligatory information. This should include the product name and supplier details.

How Many Pictograms Are on the New GHS Label?

Since June 2015, GHS labels have displayed the nine pictograms mentioned above. However, the other pictograms from signs and transportation labels should be known by all manufacturers. In total, then, there are 30 pictograms (including variants) that are important.

However, users can also look at the non-GHS transport pictograms of Classes 6.2, 7, and 9.


The safe labeling of chemicals ahead of usage and transportation is an essential responsibility that all companies associated with those products must learn to take seriously. GHS labels that offer precise details both visually and textually, which also include Safety Data Sheets, need to be used by all businesses in all appropriate situations.

To ensure that designs meet the expectations of GHS and OSHA data, speaking to an expert in GHS label printing is highly advised.