New international hazardous substances symbols

Many of us will be familiar with the age old orange and black hazardous substance symbols – they have been around for years and are instantly recognisable to all. They are found on everything from basic cleaning products to acids and has been with us since 1967 when the Dangerous Substances Directive (67/548/EEC) was passed.

European Hazardous Substances Symbols

One of the problems with this system is that it is only used in the European Union and there are many different systems used in other geographies. As a result in 1992 at the Earth Summit, the United Nations Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) concept was born with the aim of “One chemical, one label – worldwide.” and in 2002 at the UN World Summit on Sustainable Developmentit was mutually agreed that GHS should be implemented worldwide and a target date of 2008 was set.

Specifically within the EU, Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations 2009 came into effect in April 2009.  CHIP is the law that applies to the suppliers of all dangerous chemicals. Its main purpose is to protect individuals and the environment from the effects of chemicals by requiring the suppliers to provide information about the dangers of the chemicals and to package them in a safe manner.

CHIP requires suppliers of dangerous chemicals to identify the hazards (dangers) of the chemical (classification), give information about hazards to customers (lables) and, finally, package the chemical itself in a safe way.

If that was were things ended it would be OK but, confusingly, the CHIP regulations will actually be gradually replaced by the European Regulation on Classification, Labelling and Packaging of Substances and Mixtures or CLP Regulation between now and 2015.

Within the (EU) the member states asked the EC to put together a proposal for regulations which would allow member states to fully implement the UN GHS criteria and, in September 2008, the European Parliament voted to secure a First Reading deal with the Council on the European Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 on Classification, Labelling and Packaging of Substances and Mixtures (CLP).

The CLP Regulation entered into legal effect on 20 January 2009 but is subject to a lengthy transitional period.  Its provisions will be phased in over a period up to June 2015 which is intended to help suppliers and users of chemicals change from the current EU classification and labelling system to the new GHS-based system.

This new proposed Regulation will replace the afore mentioned Dangerous Substances Directive (67/548/EEC) and Dangerous Preparations Directive (1999/45/EC).

There are many implications and regulations as a result of CLP and GHS but one of the main outcomes is a new system of global hazardous substance symbols which will be common across the world. These symbols will gradually start appearing on packaging over the coming years and, while most are fairly self explanatory, there is going to be a degree of confusion while this transition occurs. The new international hazardous substances symbols are:

New international hazardous substances symbols

Most are quite similar to the traditional orange and black EU hazardous substances symbols with a few exceptions – the top right symbol represents gas under pressure, the bottom left symbol represents less serious health hazards such as skin irritation or sensitisation and the bottom right symbol represents serious longer term health hazards such as carcinogenicity and respiratory sensitisation.

In order from top left to bottom right the symbols are:

  • Dangerous to the environment;
  • Toxic;
  • Gas under pressure;
  • Corrosive;
  • Explosive;
  • Flammable;
  • Caution – used for less serious health hazards like skin irritation;
  • Oxidising; and
  • Longer term health hazards such as carcinogenicity and respiratory sensitisation.

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