The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began requiring chemical manufacturers to label dangerous materials with hazard pictograms in June of 2015. The standard helps decrease the risk of injuries, illnesses and accidents caused by exposure to certain chemicals.
OSHA’s standard follows guidelines set by the United Nations. The United Nations established the international system of pictograms to identify chemical hazards, known as the “Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals” (GHS) standards. This system includes distinct visual symbols assigned to each type of risk.
Upholding GHS Standards
Chemical manufacturers are required to make sure any container holding hazardous substances is properly labeled. They must also prepare safety data sheets and provide training. By using the GHS standards, employers and workers can see and understand the same set of hazard labels in different businesses and industries.
According to OSHA, requiring this standard should help “prevent over 500 workplaces injuries and illnesses and 43 fatalities annually.” With a white background, red border and chemical hazard classification, the labels are easy to recognize. Now workers employed at chemical manufacturing companies and employers utilizing certain chemicals can quickly identify risks associated with specific substances.
9 Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) Pictograms
Health Hazard – The health hazard pictogram features a silhouette of a person with respiratory obstructions. It is used for chemicals that can cause cancer, genetic defects, respiratory irritation, reproductive toxicity, organ toxicity and aspiration toxicity. While some hazards relate more to the environment, this pictogram relates to danger to human health. For example, people working in metal production and metal fabrication industries often deal with toxic materials that must include this label.
Flame Sign – The flame sign hazard pictogram features a silhouette of a fire flame. It is used to label chemicals that are flammable, self-heating, self-reacting, pyrophoric, contain organic peroxides and emit flammable gas. Work environments ranging from power plants to pharmaceutical companies may house chemical products with this label.
Exclamation Mark – This warning symbol is a simple exclamation mark. It is used for skin and eye irritants, narcotic effects, respiratory tract irritation and acute toxicity. Items with this hazard label require proper storage and handling processes. Workers in electronics, engineering, and construction industries are often at risk for occupational skin diseases from materials with this label.
Corrosion – The corrosion symbol shows chemical vials pouring substances on metal and a hand. The corrosion pictogram distinguishes substances that make cause eye damage and burns. It is also used for substances that destroy metals. People may encounter corrosive substances in oil and gas refineries.
Exploding Bomb – This label features a fragmented circle representing a bomb explosion. It can be used on solids and liquids which are capable of causing damage to the surroundings. These explosive materials may be self-reactive (causing fires without reacting to air), organic peroxides (reacting to heat). Jobs in mining, quarrying, demolition, construction and firefighting may expose workers to these hazards.
Gas Cylinder – This symbol looks like a sideways bottle. It is used for substances that are compressed, liquefied or dissolved gas under pressure. The hazard pressure is set as 29 pounds per square inch or more. Cylinders can become uncontrolled rockets and may contain reactive substances. These types of chemicals are often found in the oil, marine and space industries.
Flame Over Circle – This hazard pictogram features an “O”, which stands for “oxygen” with a flame above it. It is used to label oxidizers, which can cause fires by increasing the concentration of oxygen in the air. Workers in the automotive industry and textile plants may encounter these types of substances. Proper storage and handling helps reduce this risk.
Environmental Hazard – The environmental hazard pictogram shows a tree next to a dead fish. It designates aquatic toxicity, which is passed through exposure to water. It can refer to harmful chemicals that may damage human health as well as fish, invertebrates and plants. These risks may be seen in places such as the wastewater management industry and disposal of farming and agriculture chemicals, among other places.
Skull and Crossbones – This symbol, commonly associated with poisonous substances, is used to designate substances with the potential for acute toxicity. With these chemicals, even exposure to a single dose can be toxic or fatal. Exposure can occur through inhalation, swallowing or skin contact. Manufacturers of chemicals and pharmaceuticals, as well as farming industries, may be in places where this label would be placed on substances.
Workers should always check labels which will alert them of specific risks. If less hazardous materials are available, those should be used first. Storage, safe handling, contamination prevention, and external conditions can be major factors in preventing chemical reactions and physical exposure.
Understanding the health hazards, special instructions and emergency procedures can help prevent severe injuries, illnesses, and fatal accidents. Workplace safety signs also include helpful information such as a Signal Word, Substance Name, Hazard Statement and Precautionary Statement. GHS chemical signs can include multiple pictograms, depending on the substance hazards.
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