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Understanding Hazard Labels and Their Meanings

If you're a manufacturer, importer or distributor of chemicals and gasses, you'll know the importance of using safety signage to correctly label hazardous substances. The vast range of labels to choose from can be confusing for everyone else.

Are the colours important? What do the numbers on the labels mean? When do labels need to be used? This guide will provide a good overview of hazard labels, including their uses and meanings. 

What are Hazard Labels?   

Hazard labels are used to clearly and quickly identify potentially dangerous substances during transport or storage. You will almost always see these on the containers travelling around our roads, in the shape of a diamond with green, red, yellow or white colours. 

If the lorry or tanker is involved in an accident, then knowing what is inside the container could mean the difference between life and death for the emergency service personnel. These signs will instantly show them what they are dealing with, enabling a controlled and safe response. 

The labels also help to avoid other types of accidents by ensuring that they are moved around a site and stored with the necessary care and attention. 

What are the main types of hazard labels?   

There are two main types of hazard warning labels, the GHS and the general hazard label. Both of these are typically supplied in the form of an easily identifiable pictogram printed onto self-adhesive vinyl, which can be applied to storage tanks, cupboards and cabinets as well as vehicles to ensure the safety of your personnel and the environment.  

The GHS, or Globally Harmonised System  

Oxidising Symbol GHS Hazard Labels

When substances are transported worldwide, it is important for people of all nations and languages to understand any potential risks at a glance. The United Nations introduced this system to classify and label chemicals as a worldwide standardised set of chemical warnings.

These warnings include a category, for example, ‘explosive’ or ‘flammable’, in the form of a pictogram and, often, a number from one to five to indicate the level of danger (with one being the most severe).

The First Mats range of GHS labels includes warnings in nine different hazard categories, covering corrosive, irritants, oxidisers and flammable chemicals, amongst others.   

Currently, in the United Kingdom, the GHS warnings are mandated by the European Union regulation for Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP).  



General hazard labels  

Corrosive Class 8 Hazard Sticker / Label

Non-GHS labels are also crucial for health and safety purposes. These labels are separated into nine different classes, from Class 1 – Explosives to Class 9 – Miscellaneous. Each classification also comes with a specific warning, so a Class 2 – Flammable shows that the substance is a gas (Class 2 is the identifier for gases) and that it is flammable.  

The First Mats range of general warning labels is manufactured to comply with British Standard BS 5609, relating to the durability of both label and ink when submerged in seawater for up to three months.  

Why should you use Hazard Warning labels? 

All businesses must ensure that they comply with laws and regulations.

If you are storing, importing or transporting chemicals, then there are specific rules for you to follow in terms of the labels that you use. Above and beyond regulatory requirements, the consistent and correct use of hazard labels is an integral part of good health and safety in the workplace.

Knowing how to handle a chemical during transport and in storage (for example, keeping pressurised gas containers away from heat sources or flammable chemicals away from naked flames) can help to lessen the risk of accidents, and knowing how to respond to a spill or leak can reduce the consequences to health and environment.  

Understanding hazard labels and their meanings can lead to a safer workplace and ensure compliance with health and safety regulations. Potentially dangerous chemicals should be correctly labelled when being stored or transported so that people can act with appropriate care and attention. 


Richard O'Connor's Headshot

Richard O'Connor is a Director at First Mats. He has deep knowledge in areas like Manufacturing, Warehousing, Marine, and Health & Safety. Richard's insights have been featured in well-known publications such as Bloomberg Business, The Sun, and Reader's Digest. His blend of industry expertise and passion for sharing makes him a sought-after voice in his fields.

Contact Richard