Changes in Legislation Around Chemical Symbols

For people working with chemicals and hazardous substances, it’s an acknowledged fact that it’s important to stay in touch with changing legislation. Attention must always be paid when revisions are made to chemical symbols and how they are used.

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) is an ongoing process of revision and refinement that is updated approximately every two years, with the aim of ensuring accurate and up-to-date information on toxicity and physical hazards from chemicals is available at regional, national and global level. This is important in ensuring the safety of everyone dealing with chemicals.

CLP legislation

In 2015, amendments were made to the Classification, Labelling and Packaging of Chemicals (CLP). The existing legislation on CLP had been agreed at European Union-level and began to be directly applied to all EU member states, including the UK.

Some of the rules European countries have to follow changed, however, and a new set of hazard pictograms, not dissimilar to the previous ones, were introduced.

GHS labels

The following labelling requirements must be met:

  • Relevant pictograms
  • Appropriate signal words
  • Accurate hazard statements
  • Precautionary statements, pictograms and identifiers

Safety labels that comply with regulations are important ingredients in the workplace health and safety policies accompanying chemical and other hazardous substances. Seeking out the clearest, most informative labels is therefore in the interests of every employer and employee in the field.


Pictograms use visual images, sometimes combined with text, to inform and reinforce messages about potential danger. As with most hazard warnings, they are usually designed using the colour yellow with black edgings and carry vivid images to convey the level of danger.

Signal words

Signal words are individual words or phrases that indicate the nature of the hazard or potential hazard. The most common examples are ‘danger’, ‘dangerous’ and ‘warning’.

Hazard statements

When it’s important to describe the nature of a substance or material that might cause a hazard, then a hazard statement is used. Examples include:

  • Biohazard
  • Causes serious eye damage
  • May cause allergy or asthma symptoms or breathing difficulties if inhaled
  • Toxic if swallowed
  • Toxic to aquatic life with long-lasting effects

Precautionary statements

A precautionary statement is one that describes steps to minimise or prevent any adverse effects that may result from exposure to a hazardous substance. Examples include:

  • Avoid release into the environment
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke when using this product
  • In case of inadequate ventilation wear respiratory protection
  • Wear eye protection

Precautionary pictograms

Precautionary pictograms are pictorial symbols designed to prevent harm being sustained by exposure to, improper storage of or when handling hazardous materials, such as those that inform people that gloves, helmets and so on are mandatory.

Product identifiers

Product identifiers list the chemical identity of a substance, its shipping name and its supplier identification. These include similar pictograms to those that appear on safety labels.

GHS labels and CLP legislation must be taken very seriously indeed when dealing with hazardous materials and substances in the workplace.

Disclaimer: The information provided through Legislation Watch is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Legislation Watch is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.

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