Chemical Hazard Communication - Why Do I Need GHS Labels?

What is hazard communication, and why does it apply to my workplace?

The Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) recently aligned with a global system to simplify workplace safety. Hazard communication is a procedural standard set forth by the United Nations to standardize the identification, communication, and labeling of chemical-related hazards.

The globally harmonized system (GHS) of chemical identification and labeling can be a bit complicated, so here we'll try and dive in to the finer details and help make sense of it all. In order to understand hazard communication (also known as HazCom), first we must differentiate between common workplace containers.

Primary vs. Secondary Containers

Primary containers come straight from the manufacturer. They come in drums, tubs, pails, bottles, or other larger canisters that are pre-labeled with the chemical identifier. The primary container labels are required to include the manufacturer information. The next section is where things are a little confusing.

Often times, workplace operations require transferring chemicals from the original labeled container into a smaller secondary container (beaker, flask, or bottle). Additionally, certain manufacturing processes require hazardous materials to be transferred into larger containers (plating and finishing operations, semiconductor, and pharmaceutical manufacturing, etc.)

Labeling Requirements for Secondary Containers

The secondary container is required to be labeled with a GHS chemical label, given if any of the following events occur:

  • The material is not used within the work shift of the individual who makes the transfer.
  • The worker who made the transfer leaves the work area.
  • The container is moved to another work area and is no longer in the possession of the worker who filled the container.
  • Labels on portable (secondary) containers are not required if the worker who made the chemical transfer uses all of the contents during the work shift.

If you use chemicals in the workplace, there is a good chance that you need GHS labels in order to maintain an organized and clearly identifiable chemical stock. The labels inform workers of the chemical hazards present and keep the company compliant with the HazCom standard.

Components of a GHS Label

The Hazard Communication standard indicates the required elements of GHS chemical safety labels [1910.1200(f)(1)(i-vi)].

  • Product Identifier, Signal Word, Hazard Statement(s), Pictogram(s); and, Precautionary statement(s).
  • The identity of the chemical and appropriate hazard warnings must be shown on the label.
  • The hazard warning must provide users with an immediate understanding of the primary health and/or physical hazard(s) of the chemical through the use of words, pictures, symbols, or any combination of these elements.
  • The name and address of the manufacturer, importer or other responsible party must be included on the "primary container" label.
  • The hazard label message must be legible, permanently displayed and written in English
  • Note: Secondary container labels do not require the manufacturer information.

The expectation for compliance for the now two-year-old GHS alignment has only increased in 2018. Ensure your facility is up-to-date with chemical organization and label compliance!


OSHA QuickFacts. Laboratory Safety Labeling and Transfer of Chemicals. Web. OSHA 3410 8/2011. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 19 April, 2017.


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