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Hazard Communication Standard: Chemical Label Changes

Hazard Communication Standard

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires all manufacturers, importers, distributors and other relevant parties handling chemicals to adopt a new chemical labeling guide. This is in line with the organization's goal to make the United States align with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) recommended by the United Nations. The new changes will enhance worker comprehension and improve consistency and quality in the labeling and classification of chemicals. With the changes, users will have better information on how to handle and use hazardous chemicals, and thus avoid illnesses or injuries related to exposure.

With the revised standards, information about hazardous chemicals has to be available on labels using quick visuals to alert a user. The visual labels must make the hazards immediately recognizable and have instructions on how the chemicals should be handled to ensure the safety of users. Labels should provide information on the particular hazardous chemicals.


However, labels cannot provide sufficient information because of their design. Therefore, hazardous chemicals must be accompanied by a 16-section Safety Data Sheet (SDS) containing detailed information about them.

Beginning June 1, 2015, all hazardous chemicals will have to be labeled with specific elements including signal words, pictograms, and hazard and precautionary statements. Manufacturers, importers and distributors are however at liberty to start using the new labeling system before June 1, 2015.

Label Requirements

In the HCS, labels are defined as an appropriate group of graphic, printed or written informational elements regarding a hazardous chemical. The labels may be affixed to, attached to the container carrying the hazardous chemical, printed on, or on the outside packaging.

All parties that handle chemicals are required by the HCS to ensure every container or package of hazardous chemicals leaving their warehouse is marked, tagged or labeled with:

  • Name, address and telephone number of the importer, distributor or manufacturer.
  • Product identifier. This is the extent of hazard of the chemical. It may include the batch number, code number, chemical number, etc. The same product identifier must be indicated on the label and the SDS.
  • Signal words. These words indicate the level of severity of the hazard and alert the user to a potential hazard on the label. The signal words that can be used are “Warning” and “Danger”.
  • Precautionary statement(s). These describe the measures that should be taken to prevent or minimize adverse effects that exposure to the chemical due to improper handling or storage can result to.
  • Hazard statement(s). These describe the type and extent of the hazards of a chemical.

Supplementary Information

Any other information that may be helpful regarding the chemical may be provided as supplementary information. Other hazards not classified under the label may also be listed under supplementary information.


Pictograms are graphic symbols that provide specific information about the hazards in a chemical. A pictogram consists of a red square frame set in a point with a black hazard symbol on a white background. The pictogram should be sufficiently wide to be clearly seen.

Employer Responsibilities

Employers are tasked with maintaining the labels on the containers. The labels should be maintained in a manner that will make them continue being legible and the information on them does not get washed away or defaced. Any labels that are removed or defaced should be replaced by the employer.

When containers are shipped, the employer is not responsible for updating the labels. If new hazards are identified that are not disclosed on the label, the employer must inform workers of the hazards.

Workplace Labels

The general requirements for workplace labeling have not changed. Employers can create their own workplace labels or use the labels, symbols, pictures, words or a combination provided by the chemical manufacturers.

If an employer has a workplace or in-plant system that meets the requirements of HazCom 1994, the system may continue to be used as long as employees are provided with all information on the potential physical and health hazards of the hazardous chemical. The workplace labeling system may include operating procedures, batch tickets, process sheets, placards, signs, and other pre-written materials that identify hazardous materials.

Find out more about the new chemical labeling rule in this OSHA guide.

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