The current Globally Harmonized System (GHS) is a method by which safety information as it pertains to specific products is communicated in a standard format internationally. The two major elements of this system are Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and safety labels. Because of their effectiveness in overcoming language barriers, GHS pictograms are a major part of the new GHS labels.

GHS pictograms are basic symbols that that give indications to viewers that one or more hazard types may be associated with that particular chemical. They consist of a red diamond-shaped outline with a symbol printed in black inside. These symbols can indicate things like health hazards, flammability, contents under pressure, explosion or environmental hazards. They are, however, just one of the several label requirements of the GHS classification system.

Responsible Party Identification

The label must include the name, address and phone number of the product manufacturer, importer or other responsible party. This gives users of the product quick access to a source of more detailed information if it is needed quickly. It also provides a bit of accountability for the accuracy of the information on the label and associated SDS.

Product Identifier

The product identifier is basically the product name as chosen by the manufacturer or distributor. It can consist of a name, batch number or both. It is important that the same identifier be used on both the label and SDS for easy cross-reference.

Signal Words

Only one of two possible signal words is used: “danger” and “warning”. “Danger” indicates hazards that are more severe while “warning” is used for hazards that are less serious. Only one of the two signal words are used regardless of the number of hazards present. In this case, the word for the more serious hazard is to be used.

Hazard Statement

The hazard statement is chosen from a long list of standard statements that describe hazards of various chemicals. This is to ensure that the same statement will be used by all manufacturers of chemicals of the same category. An example of a hazard statement on a GHS label is “causes severe skin burns and eye damage”. Unlike the signal word, all the applicable hazard statements are used, so it is common to see two or more listed.

Precautionary Statements

Precautionary statements are brief descriptions of measures that should be taken to prevent or minimize adverse effects from exposure to the chemical. The four types of statements are related to prevention, response, storage and disposal.


There are nine available pictograms that can be used on GHS labels.
● Health hazard
● Flame
● Exclamation mark
● Gas cylinder
● Corrosion 
● Exploding bomb
● Flame over circle
● Environment
● Skull and crossbones

As opposed to previously used systems, these label requirements provide consistency in the way products are labeled in order to more clearly communicate hazard information to product users. If you want to learn more, visit ICC Compliance Center.