Chemical Labels – It does what it says on the tin?

5th February 2016 | By | Reply More

Chemical labels – it says what it does on the tin!

The labels on your chemicals are changing – well, actually they probably have changed and you may find the new labels confusing. Along with a new set of logos, there are other less obvious changes that may catch you out. This article is intended to highlight the biggest differences.

Out with the old – in with the old?

The logos for chemical labels basically look the same, and tell you the same things as they did before (well 6 of nine of them do). BUT that is a misleading impression. Under the surface there are other important changes going on as well. Chief amongst these are the changes to many of the thresholds that determine which classification of hazard the substances gets. In the past many of the ‘harmful’ materials were actually a lot nastier than they said – but now they may well be marked as toxic or have the new logo for ‘long term health effects’ (including cancer) which used to be very hard to identify from a label.

New logos – old risks

If you had a carcinogenic substance in the past it would have been hard to find the ‘R45’ buried in the text of the MSDS document. now you get a new chemical label to highlight that this stuff is dangerous to your long term health. This includes several other types of long term harm as well – such as causing occupational asthma. All stuff you really want to avoid.

More or less?

The changes hide the additional information that is now required to be provided in the MSDS and on the label. Out go the ‘S’ and ‘R’ phrases that were supposed to tell you what the safety requirements were for the risks that the substance posed. Instead come the ‘H’ and ‘P’ phrases, which refer to the hazards and precautions you need to take. Sounds like a small change until you realise that there are many more of them, and that they are much more targeted at the harm that you can suffer.

Combined with the new logos the additional information should make undertaking COSHH and DSEAR risk assessment a much simpler process with the issues better highlighted and the actions you need to take more clearly spelt out up front.

So what do I need to do?

Well actually not a lot – provided you already have in place competent COSHH and DSEAR risk assessments in place with a regular review as part of your management programme. If you don’t then you should and this may mean more work than you expected.

You may find a poster helpful to look up the new logos used on chemical labels whilst people get used to the new system, and how it maps from the old. You may need to do a little training to help people with the transition (especially those doing COSHH risk assessments). Safety 4 HEd is here to help you through the changes with advice, training and if necessary practical support. We have also produced this poster (printed at A3 on light glossy board) which our regular clients can request for free. If you are not yet a client and want copies please contact us and request them. There will be a small fee to cover production and postage.

Chemical Labels poster

Chemical Labels poster

Category: Resources

About the Author ()

Vincent Theobald-Vega was an HSE Inspector (1989 to 1999), worked in the Newcastle University Safety Office (1999 to 2012) including as Head of Safety (2002 to 2012) before setting up Safety 4 HEd. Vincent also teaching at for Northumbria University (since 2003). In 2015 and 2016 Vincent has won awards for his Expert Witness work.

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