Most chemical manufacturers include chemical storage symbols on their labels. Many manufacturers use symbols that include a hazard ranking system, such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA 704) diamond symbol or the Hazardous Materials Identification System (HMIS) colored rectangle. Picture glyphs are another common label element. Below are examples of the NFPA and HMIS hazard ranking systems (Figure 4.3), and glyph systems from the European Union (Figure 4.4) and Canada (Figure 4.5) which are commonly seen on U.S. chemical labels and safety data sheets.

  • Figure 4.3
    NFPA diamond symbol (left), HMIS label (right)
  • Figure 4.4
    European Union hazard glyphs, which are now common on domestic chemicals.
    (Top, left to right): Corrosive, Flammable, Oxidizing, Explosive
    (Bottom, left to right): Harmful, Irritant, Poisonous, Toxic to the Environment
  • Figure 4.5
    Canada’s national hazard communication standard, the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) uses these symbols to represent and classify various materials.
    (Top, left to right): Compressed Gases and Aerosols, Flammable/Combustible, Oxidizing, Highly Toxic
    (Bottom, left to right): Toxic, Biohazardous, Corrosive, and Reactive.
    Recognizing the need for a universal method to identify potentially hazardous substances, the United Nations has created a worldwide Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for label elements and safety data sheets. Because of the numerous languages used by the worldwide research community, the GHS relies heavily on picture glyphs to convey the basic information. Below are GHS glyphs that will begin appearing on chemical labels and SDSs. Training on the EHS website outlines the GHS standards. Several premade GHS labels are available on the EHS GHS Labels webpage.
  • Figure 4.6
    United Nations GHS label elements (left to right):
    Flammable, Harmful, Oxidizing, Toxic to the Environment, Corrosive, Compressed Gas, Explosive, Human Health Hazard, Highly Toxic