Chemical Hazard Communication: Why Do I Need GHS Labels?

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

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 Container vs. Secondary Container Labels

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, pharmaceutical manufacturing, etc.)

Secondary container labels do not require the manufacturer information. A written hazard communication program is key to standardize your workplace chemical stock, and facilitate your GHS Chemical labels.

Labeling Requirements for Secondary Containers

The secondary containers are 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 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, chances are that you need GHS labels. These labels inform workers of chemical hazards and keep the company compliant with the HazCom standard.

OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard

OSHA hazard communication federal standard [29 CFR 1910.1200(f)(1)] states the following:

"Employers must ensure that no worker uses, stores, or allows any other person to use or store any hazardous substance in a laboratory if the container (including bags, barrels, bottles, boxes, cans, cylinders, drums and reaction vessels) does not meet the following labeling requirements in OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard."

The OSHA standard also indicates the primary aspects of a GHS Label.


  • 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.

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

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

Jacob Gospodnetich is the Marketing & Content coordinator for HCL Labels, Inc. He graduated San Jose State University in 2016 with his Bachelors in Business with a Concentration in Marketing.

Posted on Feb 08, 2018


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