A Guide to GHS Labels

OSHA updated Hazard Communication Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1200, to align with the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. There are a number of GHS labeling requirements facilities will need to be aware of to stay compliant and keep workers safe.

GHS Label Elements

The prescribed symbols, signal words, and hazard statements can be readily selected from Annex 1 of the GHS Purple Book. These standardized elements are not subject to variation and should appear on the GHS label as indicated in the GHS for each hazard category or class in the system. The use of symbols, signal words, or hazard statements other than those that have been assigned to each of the GHS hazards would be contrary to harmonization.

globally harmonized system label

  1. Product Identifier – Name or number used for a hazardous product on a label or in the SDS
  2. Signal Words – “Danger” or “Warning” are used to emphasize hazards and indicate the relative level of severity of the hazard assigned to a GHS hazard class and category
  3. GHS Hazard Statements – Standard phrases assigned to a hazard class and category that describe the nature of the hazard
  4. Precautionary Statements – Measures to minimize or prevent adverse effects
  5. GHS Pictograms – Standardized set of symbols which convey health, physical, and environmental hazard information
  6. Supplier Identification – Company name, address, and phone number should be listed on the GHS label

Creating GHS Labels

There are several options to create or acquire GHS labels for marking your chemicals. The three most common GHS labeling options are:

  • Order labels from a safety company
  • Print paper GHS labels from an inkjet or laser printer
  • Print your own labels using a thermal transfer printer (recommended)

NOTE: When creating GHS labels, the only given regulation is that the hazard pictograms, signal word, and hazard statements should be located together on the label. Aside from this, the label format or layout is not actually specified by GHS.

Ordering GHS Labels

Typically, you can fill out a printed or online order form per chemical with the required chemical information found in the chemical’s SDS sheet, submit it, and the company will print the label for you and ship to your facility. For companies with a limited need for GHS labels, ordering GHS labels from a catalog or website can be a viable option.

PROS: No equipment needed.

CONS: High cost per GHS label, wait time for delivery, impractical for high volume and/or repeat need.

Printing Paper GHS Labels

Another option for creating GHS labels is to utilize an existing inkjet or laser printer to print labels onto standard paper. The obvious major downside to this is the durability of paper labels. Because of the nature of GHS, GHS labels are around chemicals- and a small amount of certain chemicals or even water could obscure or destroy the label. Additionally, ink on paper exposed to UV will often fade and lose visibility, and depending on the print method, these labels can wear very easily with contact.

Some of these downfalls can be mitigated by protecting the labels with heavy duty plastic sleeves or another protective means, but this often can be difficult to do with smaller GHS label sizes.

PROS: Inexpensive, utilize existing equipment, print on demand, can save files for later quick recall

CONS: Not durable, requires extra protection from water, wear and chemical damage, not practical for smaller containers/labels.

Printing GHS Labels with a Thermal Transfer Printer

By far, the most ideal option for creating GHS labels is through the use of a thermal transfer printer. Because of their superior lifespan and low cost per label, for most companies dealing with a lot of GHS labels, having a thermal transfer printer in-house ends up being the easiest and most cost-effective way to create these labels.

Thermal transfer printers connect to any PC but are different than inkjet or laser printers in that instead of laying ink on top of a paper surface, thermal transfer printers work by heating a print ribbon resin and thermally bonding it to a material, usually an industrial vinyl. Through this method, you create weatherproof labels capable of lasting many years- even outdoors- without fading, smearing or wearing away.

Although most thermal transfer printers are mono-color systems (1 color at a time), many companies that offer thermal transfer printers can provide a dedicated GHS label stock with the red pictogram borders pre-printed.

Using your SDS, simply copy and paste, or manually enter the required information into the correct fields and print your label(s). Any thermal transfer printer capable of printing GHS labels should have the functionality to save labels so you can print them again later on.

PROS: Highly durable, weatherproof, chemical/UV/ water/wear resistant, can save lives for later quick recall, low cost per label vs ordering, print on demand

CONS: Requires a thermal transfer printer

You will want to identify the specific needs of your workplace and evaluate the number of GHS labels you need. If you only use GHS labels sparingly, the best option would probably to custom order your labels. However, if you are a chemical manufacturer, distributor, or just need to print a high volume of GHS labels, the industrial label printer will save you both time and money.

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