Chemical Safety Labels – Overview

Chemical safety labels are parts of hazard controls against hazardous chemicals. Correct chemical safety labeling is fundamental factor to workplace safety. Besides, it is also required by legal.


Chemical safety labels inform potential hazards posed by hazardous chemicals, as well as other important information such as first aid procedure and emergency procedure. Their applications on hazardous chemical containers are very practical on how to use the products safely.

Potential hazards contained in a specific hazardous chemical may in form of physical and health hazards. Physical hazards could be combustible liquid, explosive, compressed gases, flammable, oxidizer, organic peroxide, water reactive and unstable or reactive. Health hazards of hazardous chemical could be carcinogenic (cancer-causing), irritant, corrosive, sensitizer, acutely toxic, chronically toxic, reproductive toxin, hepatotoxins, nephatoxins, neurotoxins, substances that damage the skin, eyes, mucous membranes or lungs, and substances that work on the circulatory system.

Failure to provide correct chemical safety labels or chemical hazard labels can cause injuries, ill health, death, fire and explosion. As an example, when a worker is mixing two chemicals or more without clear labels, could create toxic gases or even explosion.

Chemical Safety Labels Contents

Chemical safety labels should contain the following information:

  1. hazard class and or warning words
  2. product (trading) name, chemical name, UN number, composition (ingredients)
  3. hazard and safety expression
  4. direction for use
  5. first aid procedure and emergency procedure
  6. manufacturer or supplier details
  7. expire date

Specific legislation requires minimum container size that shall mention all the above information on the labels. In general, if the container size is too small, the chemical safety labels shall be provided with string tied to the container or on the outer packaging. Many laboratory reagents are found to use such this labeling procedure due to its small container.

The manufacturer or supplier must provide the chemical hazard labels when the products are going to be shipped or delivered to your chemical plant site.

Standard Hazard Categories and Rating Scale

According NFPA 704, hazard categories or classes are based on coloring system, where blue is for health hazard, yellow for reactivity hazard, red for fire hazard and white for specific hazard. The NFPA system uses diamond shapes to show each hazard category.

Rating scale for each hazard category is given in the range of 0 (low level of risk) to 4 (high level of risk). Below are the explanations of rating scale for each hazard category.

Health Hazard
4 = can be lethal
3 = can cause serious or permanent injury
2 = can cause temporary incapacitation or residual injury
1 = can cause significant irritation
0 = no hazard

Reactivity Hazard
4 = may explode at normal temperatures and pressures
3 = may explode at high temperatures or shock
2 = violent chemical change at high temperatures or pressures
1 = normally stable. High temperatures make unstable
0 = stable

Fire Hazard
4 = will vaporize and readily burn at normal temperatures
3 = can be ignited under almost all ambient temperatures
2 = must be heated or high ambient temperatures to burn
1 = must be preheated before ignition can occur
0 = will not burn

Specific Hazard
ALK = Alkaline
ACID = Acidic
COR = Corrosive
OX = Oxidizing
= reacts violently or explosively with water
OX = reacts violently or explosively with water and oxidizing
= radioactive

Things Needs to be Considered

Each hazardous chemical container in your plant site and laboratory must be properly labeled according the standard you are referring to. You can refer to the NFPA 704 system above or other standards.

There are important things that you should consider associated the use of chemical safety labels or chemical hazard labels on chemical container or packaging.

  1. All containers must be properly labeled.
  2. Do not accept chemicals that are delivered without safety labels or unclear safety labels.
  3. Do not use chemicals without label or unclear label on its container or packaging.
  4. A new chemical safety label is required if the label is damaged or masked.
  5. A new label must be provided if you transfer the chemical from original container into another container.
  6. Ensure that all workers have been trained about the chemical safety labels standards and they have minimum competencies to handle hazardous chemicals safely.
  7. Place labeling standard guide in the workplace that can be readily recognized by the workers.
  8. Use appropriate safety slogans or safety posters to enhance workers’ awareness against the importance of chemical safety labels or chemical hazard labels.

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