How to comply with the latest GHS labeling guidelines

July 1, 2014

Chemical labeling requirements will undergo extensive changes the next few years due to updates to the “Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals,” or GHS.

By Chris Cocanig

Previously, color portions of a hazardous warning label could be preprinted. Soon that will change.

Chemical labeling requirements will undergo extensive changes the next few years due to updates to the "Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals," or GHS. Any chemical maker, supplier or user must comply with GHS requirements, which cover all hazardous chemical substances, dilute solutions and mixtures.

GHS regulation components include hazard classification, modified safety data sheets, and compliant labels and formats. Setting up a new labeling system often requires additional planning, so it’s important not to underestimate this aspect of GHS compliance.

Compliant labels have several different elements, including the signal word, symbols (hazard pictogram), product name or identifier, hazard statements and precautionary statements.

Previously, any color portion of a hazardous warning label could be preprinted and shipped to manufacturers. They could then print key information in black monochrome atop the color graphics. Now, however, the GHS guidelines make this method impractical in most applications. By June 2015, most companies will have to print entire labels on-demand with two colors: red and black.

For most companies, this means reinventing their current printing process with all new equipment and label stock to add color capabilities. This process can be somewhat daunting, as there are many choices for matching appropriate certified label media and printer types in a given manufacturing environment.

However, companies adopting the new guidelines have also the opportunity to simultaneously reduce printing costs and enjoy long-term savings, while improving safety, the ultimate goal of the new standards. The new label format can also be used to enhance brand identity.

Updating printing solution advice

Evaluate Printing Options

GHS label printing options include ink jet, thermal and laser printers. Each has benefits that vary in importance based on individual needs.

Ink jet printers:

  • have simple design and low initial cost.
  • include narrow and wide models, to satisfy more applications.
  • can produce roll output for automatic applicator use.
  • have Perforated fanfold labels to fold and stack neatly in a fan shape, which means less refilling for high-output printing and less waste in transition.
  • are compatible with Windows drivers.
  • use fixed-price ink.
  • provide the overall lowest-cost solution.

Thermal printers:

  • have high-volume options that print black and red at the same time.
  • are ideal for on-demand printing, eliminating maintenance of multiple pre-printed labels.
  • Are linked to lower label-stock costs.
  • have roll output for use with automatic applicators.
  • print longer labels than standard laser printers.
  • have ribbon-saver on the red ribbons.

Laser printers:

  • print in full color and without limit meet GHS Color Pictogram requirements.
  • can PMS color-match for DOT and other regulatory requirements.
  • reduce the number of managed label stocks.
  • reduce the cost of label sheets since preprinted colors are unnecessary.
  • entail lower up-front equipment purchases.

Companies that have had the same printing solutions for years may not know how to get started on making new printing decisions. There are a number of factors and considerations that should go into this process. Here are some to keep in mind.

Start the process early. All new labels created on or after June 1, 2015 are required to be in compliance with the new GHS guidelines. Don’t underestimate the timeline necessary for implementing label changes. For complex manufacturing operations, this process can take up to nine months. Even for smaller companies with simpler infrastructures, it typically still takes at least three months to evaluate, install and test a new printer system.

Evaluate Printing Needs. The first step in updating a printing solution is to evaluate your particular label needs. Companies should consider the following:

Labels may be applied to virtually any container, such as boxes, metal, plastic drums, bottles and cartons. Some types of label media are better suited for certain types of containers.

Containers requiring labels can range from small bottles to 55-gallon drums, vastly changing how large a label should be. Companies should take container size into account when evaluating label needs. This may also present an opportunity to save money, as businesses may be able to reduce the size of their current one-size-fits-all labels in exchange for ones that are only as big as necessary for each given container. Likewise, companies that require several types of labels – predominantly based on the number of different products offered — may be able to optimize their labels for added savings.

A small company may have just a few printers, while the largest companies require hundreds of printers running constantly. Printing and printer volume can alter the selection and estimated costs of purchasing and using each type of printer.

A printing solution should take into account ambient factors such as temperature and moisture levels in the containers’ destinations. Labels for certain products also need to have exceptional chemical and abrasion resistance. Some labels are more durable than others in harsh conditions.

Consider the law

Companies should, of course, consider what they are required by law to print on their labels, such as warnings, symbols and identifiers. These factors can govern other label considerations, like size. In addition, some companies may want to include their color logos or other graphical elements on each label to help with their brand identity. Consider not only their current needs but also any changes they may want to implement in the future. Graphical elements generally require a printer capable of printing more than the standard two colors necessary for the GHS requirements.

Most manufacturers have printing needs aside from GHS-compliant labels. For example, not all chemicals require GHS-compliant labels but may still require a shipping label. Multipurpose printers, with additional capabilities such as color options, satisfy a range of printing needs.

Take into consideration how printing needs are currently handled by examining existing labels and content and layout components that will be carried over to the new labeling system. Businesses should also consider their current host devices to determine whether they currently employ SAP, Oracle or another enterprise system to feed data to the label printer. Some GHS-compliant equipment may not work as smoothly with existing ERP systems, especially if a proprietary system is in place. Solutions providers like Peak-Ryzex can provide recommendations for equipment that’s compatible with existing host devices, or suggest appropriate upgrades for better and more comprehensive solutions if they are available.

Estimate Costs. Total cost of ownership is an important factor to evaluate. Companies should scrutinize not only the potential cost of each label, but also the cost of each individual printed image. Costs can often reach up to $0.50 per label. But with the right printing solution, this may be reduced to just $0.20 per label and $0.05 per image.

Take a Holistic Approach. Companies should look at label-printing as an entire, holistic process rather than considering only certain aspects of printing solutions. It’s often more beneficial to use one partner for all printing needs rather than having several entities involved. This ensures that all the components work well together. It also ensures consistent quality, results and good customer service. Companies should remember to start early and be comprehensive in their methodology. This will result in a timely and precise system capable of meeting all GHS requirements.

Chris Cocanig is GHS business development manager at Peak Ryzek, Inc.  has been in the Auto ID business for more than 20 years. His degree in electrical engineering is from DeVry University. He has worked at Wallace Computer Services, Moore-Wallace, RR Donnelly and Peak-Ryzex in several management capacities. For the last two years he has focused on GHS applications and solutions. Cocanig has spent the majority of his career analyzing print operations and developing real world usable solutions to a wide variety of printing challenges.

Peak-Ryzex, Inc., Columbia, Maryland, is a systems integrator of supply chain and inventory management solutions and services.

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