June saw the start of the final phase of the United Nations sponsored programme to harmonise the chemical warning symbols found on many industrial and household products on a global basis. As a result, the warning labels on many products used in industry have changed.
Stuart Longworth, Chairman of the Chemical Hazards Communication Society, says the changes will benefit industry and consumers, "The UN’s Global Harmonised System aims to harmonise the symbols and warning statements used on the labels on a global basis. They will make life easier for businesses when they import and export products, and consumers when they travel because eventually there will be only one set of symbols to deal with throughout most of the world."
The labels are commonly found on numerous products used across a wide range of industries and alert users to the hazards associated with chemicals in the products to enable them to take appropriate care when using them.
The design of the new symbols comprises a white diamond with red borders containing a black pictogram. Some are similar to the previous versions and are easily recognised, but several are new. To help users familiarise themselves with the new labels, the Chemical Hazards Communication Society (CHCS) has created a handy guide which can be downloaded from a specially created website at http://www.understandthelabel.org.uk.
To give industry and consumers time to adapt to this new system, manufacturers have been able to continue using the "old" warning labels over a transitional period. The timing of the switch depends on whether the chemical is a pure substance or a component in a mixture. Labels for substances have already been harmonised. The deadline for mixtures, which will include many products used in industry, was 1st June 2015, although products already labelled with the "old" warning symbols and on the shelves on that date can continue to be supplied until 1st June 2017.