The Latest Elements of GHS Pictogram Labels

The Latest Elements of GHS Pictogram Labels
To ensure the highest level of safety when handling potentially harmful chemical substances, the United Nations came up with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (or GHS). The aim of the system is to ensure easy understanding of the potential risks of all chemicals no matter the country of manufacture or use. Therefore, countries all over the world are continuously adopting new measures of labeling of hazardous chemicals in order to satisfy the global requirements. They include revision of their labeling to conform to the GHS Pictogram Labels requirements.

Understanding Pictogram Labels

In order to inform the user about the type of hazard present in a chemical, the manufacturer or importer uses graphic images that can be seen easily and quickly. For instance, you can easily pick out a flammable product or one which is a potential health hazard with just a glance. Keep in mind that it is a requirement that the labels should be put on exposed part of the product packaging to ensure easy identification and adoption of precautionary measures.

Most GHS Pictogram Labels include an easily identifiable red border. A symbol (usually black) representing the potential risk is then put inside the border. Therefore, a pictogram is made up of both the symbol and the enclosing border and it can’t be referred to as such without either of them.

Categories of Pictogram Labels

Different pictograms are associated with different classes and categories of hazards. The flame pictogram is used to show presence of flammable gases, aerosols, solids and liquids. In addition, they help warn handlers about the presence of pyrophoric gases, solids and liquids as well as substances and mixtures that are likely to self-heat or self-react.

The flame pictograms are also used with organic peroxides and substances that produce flammable gases when they come into contact with water. Remember, the presence of oxidizing solids, liquids and gases is shown by a flame over circle pictogram. Additionally, self-reactive substances and mixtures and organic peroxides may come with an exploding bomb pictogram.

A pictogram with a gas cylinder as a symbol is used for gases under pressure. They include liquefied, dissolved, compressed and refrigerated and liquefied gases. On the other hand, a corrosion pictogram tells you that you are handling corrosive metal, and substances that may cause skin corrosion and eye damage.

For acute toxicity involving oral, dermal or inhalation ways of passage into the body, the most commonly used pictogram has skull and bones as its symbol. However, a general health hazard pictogram is used for carcinogenicity, aspiration problems, reproductive toxicity, germ cell mutagenicity, skin and respiratory sensitivity and toxicity of specific body organs through single or repeated exposure. Look out for the exclamation mark pictogram which is also used for health hazards including serious eye irritation which may lead to damage.


Lack of knowledge and understanding of the GHS Pictogram Labels is the cause of many serious health problems and fatal accidents. It is, therefore, advisable to allow only the people who are familiar with the labels to handle chemical substances. Remember, however, that not all classes and categories of hazards require a pictogram although they are as potentially harmful as any of the rest. More information can be found at ICC Compliance Center, which provides additional resources.

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