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Comprehension of hazard communication: effects of pictograms on safety data sheets and labels.

Boelhouwer E; Davis J; Franco-Watkins A; Dorris N; Lungu C
J Saf Res 2013 Sep; 46:145-155
Introduction: The United Nations has proposed the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals to make hazard communication more uniform and to improve comprehension. Method: Two experiments were conducted to test whether the addition of hazard and precautionary pictograms to safety data sheets (SDS) and product labels would improve the transfer of information to users compared to safety data sheets and product labels containing text only. Additionally, naïve users, workers, and experts were tested to determine any potential differences among users. Results: The effect of adding pictograms to safety data sheets and labels was statistically significant for some conditions, but was not significant across all conditions. One benefit of the addition of pictograms was that the time to respond to the survey questions decreased when the pictograms were present for both the SDS and the labels. GHS format SDS and labels do provide benefits to users, but the system will need further enhancements and modifications to continue to improve the effectiveness of hazard communication. Impact on industry: The final rule to modify the HCS to include the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for the Classification and Labelling of Chemicals announced by OSHA (2012b) will change the information content of every chemical SDS and label used in commerce. This study suggests that the inclusion of GHS hazard pictograms and precautionary pictograms to SDS and labels may benefit the user.
Hazards; Occupational-hazards; Warning-systems; Warning-signs; Warning-devices; Safety-measures; Photography; Visual-aids; Safety-education; Health-hazards; Health-protection; Chemical-indicators; Chemical-properties; Data-processing; Questionnaires; Standards; Author Keywords: Hazard communication; GHS; SDS; Safety data sheet; Label
Eric Boelhouwer, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, 3301 Shelby Center, Auburn University, AL 36849, USA
Publication Date
Document Type
Journal Article
Email Address
Funding Type
Fiscal Year
Identifying No.
Grant-Number-T42-OH-008436; B20130805
Source Name
Journal of Safety Research
Performing Organization
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Page last reviewed: October 21, 2022
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division