Anatomy of a GHS label

The United Nation’s Globally Harmonized System for the Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS)—or the “Purple Book”—expects the GHS label to be the primary GHS application in the consumer sector and one of the GHS applications used in the workplace, emergency response, and transport sectors. To ensure that a product’s hazards are effectively communicated to all potential target audiences, the Purple Book outlines what information should be used on the label.


General information

Product identifier

First, the GHS label should contain a product identifier that matches the identifier used on the safety data sheet. The UN proper shipping name should also appear when the product is covered by the UN Model Regulations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods.

For products that are substances, the chemical identity of the substance should be included on the label. For mixtures and alloys, the chemical identity of ingredients that trigger acute toxicity, corrosivity, mutagenicity, reproductive toxicity, carcinogenicity, specific target organ toxicity, or skin or respiratory sensitization should be included, although some jurisdictions may be more stringent and require that all ingredients contributing to the overall hazard(s) of the product be disclosed on the label. Alternatively, some jurisdictions may allow for chemical identities to be excluded from the label provided the chemicals are identified on the safety data sheet. In either case, rules to withhold product identification as confidential business information are at the discretion of individual jurisdictions.

Supplier information

The product’s manufacturer or supplier’s name, address, and telephone number should be provided on the label. The requirement for a local supplier and emergency number are dependent on the individual jurisdiction’s regulations.


Standardized information

To achieve harmonization, labelling elements like symbols, signal words, and hazard statements have been standardized and assigned to each GHS hazard class and category. The label elements that appear on the label depend on the hazard classification of the product and should be updated when new and significant information emerges. The GHS does not dictate where the standardized information should appear on the label, but does recommend they be grouped together.

Hazard Pictograms

The Purple Book designates predefined symbols to each of the GHS hazard classes and categories. The hazard pictograms used on the label must be a a black symbol on a white background, enclosed by a red border that appears as a square set on point. In some cases, individual jurisdictions may permit the use of a black border instead of red. Hazard symbols on the label follow the same precedence rules as are used on safety data sheets.

Signal word

The word “Danger” or “Warning” shall be used on the label to indicate the relative severity of the product’s hazards, as dictated by the hazard category and class. “Danger” is mostly used for severe hazards (in categories 1 and 2), while “Warning” is typically used for less severe hazards.

Hazard statements

Each hazard class and category of the GHS is assigned a phrase that describes the nature (and degree, if applicable) of the hazard. The hazard statements may or may not appear on the label with their associated “H’ code, depending on the jurisdiction.


Non-standardized and supplementary information

Precautionary statements

In most cases, precautionary statements need to appear on the label for hazardous products. These statements have not been fully harmonized in the GHS, but guidance on statement selection based on the hazard and intended use is available in the Purple Book. Individual jurisdictions may also have guidance documents available to aid in statement selection, especially if there are limits to the number of precautionary statements that can be used on the label or if the label will be used for consumer versus industrial use. The precautionary statements may or may not appear on the label with their associated “P” code, depending on the jurisdiction.

Supplementary information

The Purple Book recognizes that supplementary information in addition to the GHS elements can be useful information on the label, but advises that it should be limited to two circumstances:

  • First, the supplementary information should provide more detail that does not contradict or detract from the standardized information.
  • Second, the supplementary information should provide information about hazards that are not encompassed in the GHS.

Certain jurisdictions may require supplementary information to appear on the label in addition to the GHS information (like AUH statements in Australia), so be sure to check the requirements for each country when creating your GHS labels.



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