Even though it’s been two years since OSHA adopted new chemical labeling requirements, EMC Industrial Hygienist Steve Shaffer has visited organizations who haven’t yet upgraded to the new standard. “That’s usually because they aren’t aware of it or don’t understand the finer points of the rule,” Steve says.
What’s a Pictogram?
The chemical’s label contains several standardized pieces of information, including a signal word, a hazard statement, health hazard information, manufacturer or distributor contact details, and a pictogram, which is a graphic that visually provides important information to the worker handling the chemical.
While all label information is useful, the pictograms are especially valuable if workers hurriedly grab chemicals without taking the time to read a lengthy label. Pictograms are also a practical tool for workers who have trouble reading or who aren’t native English speakers and readers.
The images, combined with simple language, allow workers to immediately know what dangers the chemical presents. And since the information is always in the same location on labels, it takes less time to find essential details. This can be a lifesaver in case of a spill or if the chemical comes into contact with a worker’s skin, eyes or other body part.
There are nine pictograms, with eight of them enforced (the environment pictogram is not mandatory).
More About Pictograms
- Labels, including pictograms, are required on all hazardous chemicals (note that chemicals with older labels can still be used).
- Pictograms on chemical labels being shipped by manufacturers, importers and distributors must include a square red frame set at a point (a.k.a. “diamond shape”) with a black symbol on a white background.
- These pictograms are not the same as the diamond-shaped labels that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requires for vehicles transporting hazardous materials. While a truck may be required to post the DOT label, the containers holding the chemicals (boxes, spray bottles, drums and other individual containers) must have pictograms.
- As an employer purchasing chemicals, you’ll be responsible for maintaining the labels on the containers. They must be legible and remain on the container. If older labels are on the container, you don’t need to update them but if the label is removed or damaged, you are responsible for relabeling. And remember that employees must be trained so they understand all styles of labels you have on site.
- The biggest oversight by organizations using hazardous chemicals is not labeling secondary containers. If you transfer chemicals from a large drum or tank into a smaller container, you must label it with a pictogram label.
There’s no doubt about it—using standardized labels with pictograms makes your job easier. “There are fewer phrases to understand and fewer explanations needed,” says Steve. “You can see at a glance what you are dealing with when handling a chemical, especially if there is an accident. Bottom line: Training is easier, what to do in case of an accident is clearer and your operations should be safer because of these graphics on labels.”