How to Read a Hazardous Chemical Label

Did you know that 2.3% of global deaths are due to occupational exposure to chemicals? To address this alarming statistic, OSHA and other regulatory agencies have adopted a system for labeling hazardous chemicals.

But, exactly what is this system? And how do you read a hazardous chemical label? If you want to learn the answer to these questions, and more, you’re in the right place.

In this article, we’ll briefly explain the labeling system. We’ll also give you a guide for understanding hazardous chemical labels. That way, you, and anyone you work with can stay safe around these potential occupational hazards. Let’s get started!

What Is a GHS Label?

GHS stands for Global Harmonized System labels. It’s part of an international standard that the United Nations manages. This system was put in place so there anyone can immediately know how certain chemicals need to be handled.

In the United States, OSHA has updated its standards to align with the labeling procedure set forth by the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals.

This labeling system takes all of the guesswork out of the equation for people that handle and transport these chemicals. Once you learn how to read a hazardous chemical label set by GHS standards, then there should be no question about how it should be handled.

Make sure to check out this resource if you want to learn more about GHS labels. In the meantime, let’s take a closer look at what type of information is included on these labels.

What Elements Need to Be on a GHS Label?

To meet international standards six pieces of information need to be found on a GHS label. These pieces of information include things like:

  • Product identifier
  • Signal word
  • Hazard pictograms
  • Hazard statement
  • Precautionary statement
  • Supplier identification

The product identifier contains the name of the chemical, as well as the code number or batch number. It’s so people know what types of hazardous chemicals are in the container.

The labels use a signal word to immediately convey the severity of chemicals. There are two signal words used: WARNING and DANGER. The WARNING designation is less severe than the DANGER one.

In case someone viewing the container can’t read, hazard pictograms are used. They are nine pictograms that depict things like a flame or exploding bomb. The hazard statement puts the hazard pictograms into written form.

It describes in detail all of the hazards associated with the chemical. The precautionary statement is used if someone is exposed to the chemical. It will also give advice that can minimize exposure.

Finally, there is supplier identification. This is the name, address, and phone number of the party that’s responsible for the chemical.

This is both to hold them accountable for the chemicals and provide someone with a contact number in the event of exposure.

Hazard Colors and Numbers on a Chemical Label

In addition to GHS labeling, there is also labeling set forth by the National Fire Protection Agency (or NFPA). This system of labeling uses a series of colors and numbers to convey how hazardous a chemical might be.

Each type of color contains a specific type of hazard. And, the number next to it details how much of a threat it might pose. The numbers run from zero to four. At first glance, this method can seem kind of simplistic.

However, in reality, the colors and numbers contain a lot of info. Let’s explore them.


The labels use the color blue to identify health risks that come with the specific type of chemical. The numbers indicate the following degrees of a hazard:

  • 0 – there is no health risk present
  • 1 – the chemical will cause irritation through exposure
  • 2 – the chemical will temporarily incapacitate someone through exposure
  • 3 – the chemical will cause either a temporary or irreversible injury through exposure
  • 4 – the chemical represents a severe health risk that could cause irreversible injury or death

There are two main types of chemical health hazards. The first type is systemic effects. This refers to chemicals that cause general health problems, like carcinogens, corrosives, and toxic agents.

The other type is target organ health risks. These are chemicals that target a specific part of the body. For example, respiratory hazards or eye toxins.


The labels use the color red to identify fire risks that come with the specific type of chemical. The numbers indicate the following degrees of a hazard:

  • 0 – there is no fire risk present
  • 1 – the chemical needs to be preheated for ignition to occur
  • 2 – the chemical needs to be heated for ignition to occur
  • 3 – the chemical is a liquid or solid that can ignite easily
  • 4 – the chemical is a gas or vapor that burns readily


The labels use the color yellow to identify reactivity risks that come with the specific type of chemical. The numbers indicate the following degrees of a hazard:

  • 0 – there is no reactivity risk present
  • 1 – the chemical could become unstable at high temperatures
  • 2 – the chemical is capable of a reaction but it’s non-explosive
  • 3 – the chemical could detonate when it’s exposed to heat or an ignition supply
  • 4 – the chemical is capable of an explosive reaction at any time

Want More Content? Keep Reading

We hope this article helped you learn how to read a hazardous chemical label. As you can, once you learn the basics this system is pretty self-explanatory.

However, it’s still important for anyone around these chemicals to receive proper training. Otherwise, they could hurt themselves or others by handling them. So, if you’re an employer, make sure that all your employees know how to read these types of labels.

Did you love this article? If the answer is yes, then odds are that you want more like it. Luckily, we’re always adding new content to our site. So, continue diving in to learn everything you can about a diverse range of subjects.

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