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The hidden life of hazard pictograms

22 Oct 2020 / SDS / MSDS
The hidden life of hazard pictograms

Did you know? Hazard pictograms on labels didn’t always exist the way they are now!


Perhaps have you already come across these yellow pictograms? They are the ancestors of the ones with white backgrounds found on chemical products labels today. Here what you should know!


The rules


The European CLP regulation (amended European Directive EU/1272/2008 regarding “Classification, Labeling, Packaging”) is gathering all EU laws regarding labeling classification of chemical compounds. It replaces progressively the prior system which included the yellow pictograms (amended Directives EU/67/548 and EU/1999/45, applicable in France by 2 orders).


Now made of black symbols on a white background within a thick red frame, the hazard pictograms have been redesigned and modernized in order to allow an easier reading of labels and potential hazards.

The new icons


The transition from those yellow pictograms was not a one-day story. Indeed, for almost seven years, the two systems were coexisting as manufacturers were given the choice whether or not to apply the new rules on labels. It was only on December 1st, 2010 that the new icons became compulsory for each marketed substance. In June 2015, mixtures were also concerned by this regulation.


Of course, it is still possible to encounter some “survivors” in laboratories. If you still have some product with these yellow icons, make sure to check the expiring date of your compounds. Better safe than sorry!


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Their signification


The new regulation was not just a simple makeover of chemical product labels. It does also use a new terminology. For instance, the term “mixture” replaces the term “preparation” which refers to a solution composed by two substances or more.


It specifies as well 28 hazard categories:

16 physical hazard categories e.g. explosible, inflammable gases, oxidizing gases
10 health hazard categories e.g. acute toxicity, skin corrosion/irritation, severe eye damage/irritation
1 environmental hazard class covering hazard to aquatic environments
A supplementary class can be found regarding hazards to ozone layer.


All these hazards are associated with the 9 pictograms based on the International Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) elaborated internationally. Each pictogram has a code composed as follows: “GHS” + “0” + 1 number.


However, some categories are not associated with these new pictograms. Moreover, if few symbols did exist in the previous system, they may not be associated with the same hazards or products with the new one (e.g. skull-and-crossbones symbol).



Now that you know why they have been reshaped, stay tuned! We’ll share more about the hazard symbols in our coming articles.

Meanwhile, if you would like to know how to make chemical risk prevention a piece of cake, simply book a call with our teams!


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