New Labelling Scheme for Chemicals

Peninsula Team

December 10 2010

From the beginning of December 2010 the hazard warning labels on chemical substances will begin to change as European Regulations on the classification, packaging and labelling of chemicals take effect. Over the last two years chemical manufacturers and suppliers have been working towards meeting these new rules.

The new labels comply with the Globally Harmonised System (GHS) sponsored by the United Nations. As all nations move towards the adoption of the GHS standard labels will be used worldwide. Users will be able to recognise a chemical hazard through the symbols used whether or not they understand the language in which the label is written.

The familiar symbols currently seen on the labels of hazardous and dangerous substances used at home and at work will change. Labels for single substances packaged from the end of November will be included in the new scheme, but where the substance was packaged before that date they can still be sold with those labels until the end of 2012. Changes to the labels used on mixtures of chemicals (preparations) are not required at this time.

In this article we will outline the changes, showing examples of the old and new pictograms and giving some examples of the information that will appear on new labels.

At the 1992 Rio de Janeiro ‘Earth Summit’ the world leaders agreed to the development of a globally harmonised hazard classification and compatible labelling system, including material safety data sheets and easily understandable symbols for hazardous chemicals.
Ten years later at the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development, in Johannesburg, the leaders agreed to adopt the UN Globally Harmonised System (GHS).

In 2008 the European Parliament introduced the law that would implement the GHS in all EU member states. The requirement was introduced as a regulation and automatically became law in each member state. In Ireland and the UK, domestic legislation around packaging and labelling has been updated to reflect the European requirements and for administrative neatness rather than any requirement to implement the GHS system.

All chemical substances and mixtures supplied under the GHS must be analysed and categorised by the manufacturer according to a Universal Classification Scheme. When the substance has been classified, it must be labelled for supply (for the user) and for transport purposes. Users must be given information about the substances, their properties and safe use.

Fortunately the requirements applying to Substance Data Sheets are not subject to significant change. There continues to be 16 sections which follow the order currently required in EU member states. However, manufacturers and suppliers will be expected to revise and update every SDS at least once every 5 years and the publication date must be clearly displayed.

The most visible change will be the new diamond shaped pictogram symbols that replace the current symbols set against a square orange background. The existing pictograms and their definitions are shown in Table 1. Those for the GHS system are shown in Table 2. The symbols are used with a ‘signal word’ which acts as an additional caution. The signal word will be either ‘DANGER’ or ’WARNING’. For lower hazard substances there may be no signal word.

Table 1. Old System Hazard Descriptions and Pictograms for Hazardous Substances 

Pictogram Description and Hazard Definition
VERY TOXIC  Chemicals that at very low levels cause damage to health.
 TOXIC  Chemicals that at low levels cause damage to health.
 HARMFUL  Chemicals that may cause damage to health.
 IRRITANT  Chemicals that may cause inflammation to skin or other membranes.
 CORROSIVE  Chemicals that may destroy living tissue on contact.
 EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE  Chemicals that have an extremely low flash point and boiling point and gases that catch fire in contact with air.
 HIGHLY FLAMMABLE  Chemicals that may catch fire in contact with air, only need brief contact with an ignition source, have a very low flash point or evolve highly flammable gases in contact with water.
 DANGEROUS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT  Chemicals that may present an immediate or delayed danger to one or more components of the environment.

Table 2 - Hazard Descriptions and Pictograms for Hazardous Substances in the Globally Harmonised Labelling System 

Symbol Hazard
Acutely toxic (hazard is severe)
Dermal Sensitizer
Acute toxicity (harmful)
Narcotic Effects
Respiratory Tract Irritation
Corrosive to metals and tissues (skin).
Severe eye damage
Flammable gases, aerosols, liquids or solids
Self Reactives
Emits Flammable Gas
Organic Peroxides
Oxidising gases, liquids and solids
Self-reactive substances Organic peroxides, types A and B.
Compressed gases, liquids and solids
Liquefied gases
Refrigerated liquefied gases
Dissolved gases
Respiratory sensitisers
Reproductive toxicity
specific target organ toxicity
Aspiration hazard
Hazardous to the environment

Risk and Safety phrases, or R and S phrases, will be replaced by Hazard and Precautionary, H and P, statements. Hazard statements will be in three groups - physical, health and environmental hazards, and contain more information. For example the existing ‘R28 Toxic if swallowed’ is replaced by one of sevral phrases depending on the classification of the substance. It could be H300 Fatal if swallowed, H301 Toxic if swallowed, H302 Harmful if swallowed, H303 May be harmful if swallowed, H304 May be fatal if swallowed and enters airways, or H305 May be harmful if swallowed and enters airways.

Similarly the Precautionary statements are separated into groups - information on general precautionary measures, information on avoiding or preventing ill health, information on action to take in response to contact, information on storage and information on disposal. Table 3 gives some examples of precautionary (P) statements.

Table 3. Examples of Precautionary Statements (P statements)
P102 Keep out of the reach of children
P201 Obtain special instructions before use.
P222 Do not allow contact with air
P242 Use only non-sparking tools
P303 If on skin (or hair) :…
P320 Specific treatment is urgent (see ……… on this label)
P375 Fight fire remotely due to the risk of explosion
P404 Store in a closed container
P413 Store bulk masses greater than xxx Kgs at temperatures not exceeding xxoC
P501 Dispose of contents/container to …

When all of the required elements are taken together a new Globally Harmonised label is likely to look like; 

Product name
Solution XXX
Product identifier
xxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxxx
Signal word
  Hazard Statement
May cause allergy or asthma symptoms or breathing difficulties if inhaled.
Precautionary Statements

P102 Keep out of the reach of children. P233 Keep container tightly closed.
P261 Avoid breathing dust. P281 Use personal protective equipment as required.
P341 If breathing is difficult, remove victim to fresh air and keep at rest in a position comfortable for breathing.
P405 Store locked up.
P501 Dispose of contents and container by xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxx.
Additional information

xxxx xxxxx xxxx xxx xxxxx xxxxxxx xxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxx xxx.
Supplier identification 

CNH Supply Co, Brownfield Industrial Estate, Sumtown ST3 6FX 
Tel: 0126 292 8xxx

If you use chemicals substances in your business you need to make sure that your workforce is briefed about these changes. It might also be appropriate to use the changes as an opportunity for a toolbox talk or refresher training about the hazards, risks and precautions associated with the use of chemicals.

You will also need to consider and take account of any new information about the substances used revealed by the new classification and labelling scheme. In the majority of cases it is unlikely that significant changes will be required but it is possible that the more detailed information may indicate a higher level of risk than you had previously recognised and require some modification to existing control measures.

As ever if you have doubts or questions about these changes do not hesitate to contact our 24 Hour Advice Service for information and advice on 0844 892 2772.

Suggested Resources