Millions of products ship throughout the world each year, making their way across the globe by truck, train, airplane and boat. Many of these products contain hazardous materials, which carry serious dangers and risks as they are handled throughout the transportation and logistics processes. In order to avoid accidents and injuries, these containers must have proper labels to display the dangerous chemicals being carried.

But with both national and international organizations requiring different standards for chemicals, along with various labeling requirements for differing chemicals and hazardous materials, there is a lot of information to consider, including industry standards, regulations and requirements organizations must comply with to keep individuals shipping, transporting and handling dangerous goods safe.

What is a Durable Label
A durable label, sometimes called a drum label, is a thermal label applied to containers — such as drums, canisters or barrels which hold potentially or known hazardous chemicals, materials and waste. These labels must be made with extremely substantial materials and a strong adhesive to guarantee they do not fall off or become damaged, scratched or faded. 

The materials used for durable labels are non-paper, synthetic materials, usually polypropylene, polyester or polyethylene — a blend of the previous two. These types of materials are tear, weather, and scratch-resistant, as well as resistant to oils and chemicals. Other sturdy materials like vinyl and nylon can be used. These synthetic materials are more expensive than paper products, but the benefits can outweigh the costs when it comes to durability.

The organizations that require these labels use them to identify and classify hazardous products, educate and inform workers, employees and emergency personnel and create a safe environment that prevents injury, illness and fatality. In order to communicate the many potential dangers each product is comprised of, durable labels generally consist of two common elements:

  1. Colors
  2. Pictograms or symbols

Each of these two features can be communicated and understood universally, which is beneficial to hazardous materials packaged or shipped internationally.

OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) is a U.S. organization created in 1970 to ensure safe working conditions by enforcing set standards, training and education. The U.S. Department of Labor regulates it, with the mission of protecting workers under the belief that a safe workspace is a basic human right. 

Employers are required to notify employees about the dangers of hazardous chemicals through several methods, such as information sheets, color-coded systems and labels.

OSHA Label Requirements 
As of 2015, OSHA updated their requirements for labeling hazardous chemicals under its Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). The labeling requirements are designed to improve awareness and knowledge of the hazards associated with the chemicals present in their workplace. Durable labels leaving the workplace that contain hazardous chemicals are required to have:

  • Pictograms
  • Hazard & precautionary statements 
  • A single word
  • Product identifier
  • Supplier identification

They must also contain the name, address and telephone number of the chemical manufacturer, importer or responsible party. Supplemental information can be provided as needed, such as instructions or information that the label producer deems beneficial to include.

The WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System) is Canada’s national hazard communication system. It was implemented in 1988, with the intention of providing comprehensive information on hazardous materials in the workplace and communicating health and safety information for hazardous products being used, handled or stored. 

WHMIS has since added updates to incorporate the GHS, or Global Harmonized System, which is an international approach to classifying and communicating hazardous information through labels. In 2015, it revised the Hazardous Products Regulation (HPR), introducing new compliance requirements for employers, importers, suppliers and distributors. 

Suppliers are responsible for labeling any hazardous products they are providing to customers while employers are responsible for preparing and applying labels to hazardous materials entering the workplace.

WHMIS Label Requirements 
In order to alert workers and employees to a dangerous product and keep them informed of basic safety precautions, WHMIS durable labels must be placed on all containers housing hazardous materials. There are three types of WHMIS durable labels, each one with different requirements depending on the container type:

  • Supplier Label
  • Workplace Label
  • Laboratory Label

Supplier Label
Supplier labels are applied to the container by the manufacturer. Instructions must be written in both official Canadian languages, English and French. Containers sold for use in Canadian workplaces must have a supplier label containing the following six factors:

  1. Product Identifier
  2. Pictogram(s)
  3. Signal Word
  4. Hazard Statement
  5. Precautionary Statement
  6. Supplier Identifier

Workplace Label
Workplace labels are necessary if the supplier label is damaged or missing, the hazardous contents of a container have been transferred from the supplier container to another one or the materials have been produced for use in the workplace or for export. 

These labels are meant to be produced by the employer or employee in the workplace. They require less information than supplier labels, assuming employees in the workplace are familiar with the chemicals being handled. Workplace labels must include:

  • Product name/identifier 
  • Safe handling information/procedures
  • Reference to the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet)

Laboratory Label
Laboratory labels are utilized when lab supplies are transferred from one container to another, new compounds are made in a laboratory or laboratory samples need to be identified. New products have unknown hazards, and because a MSDS is not yet available, laboratory labels must be applied. Laboratory labels must include:

  • Product name/identifier 
  • Supplier’s name
  • Chemical or hazardous materials ingredients
  • Supplier emergency phone number/contact information

The DOT (Department of Transportation) is a U.S. agency established by Congress in 1966 to ensure safe transportation for land, air and sea-based travel systems. It enforces federal regulations governing the use of roadways, airports, seaports and railways for the transport of dangerous goods. 

Hazardous content must be identified to guarantee the safety of transporters and workers handling the material. This applies to any dangerous materials shipped or transported over the road. Failure to properly label these containers can result in delays, heavy fines or rejections at its destination.

DOT Label Requirements 
Anyone who transports hazardous material themselves or offers for transportation must ensure that each container is properly labeled. Labels for DOT are often put through rigorous testing to make sure they can endure the worst possible conditions, and therefore they must be durable and weather resistant. DOT hazmat durable labels are diamond-shaped and color-matched with symbols used to communicate the dangers of the materials being transported. They must include:

  • Pictograms or symbols
  • Text or wording
  • Hazard division or classification
  • Color
  • Solid line inner border 

DOT hazmat durable labels must be printed on or attached to the surface of the package near the shipping name and on any side of the package except the bottom.

The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) created in 1958 for the regulation and safety of civil aviation within the U.S. and abroad. In order to maintain the safety of the operating aircraft and all personnel aboard and support national security to promote an efficient airspace system, all hazardous materials are regulated and labeled for safety.

FAA Marking & Label Requirements 
In order to be transported, dangerous goods and hazardous materials, like liquids and aerosols, must be prepared with proper markings and labels that reflect the correct information and comply with safety regulations. 

Markings are required on outer packages of hazardous materials or goods. This can mean any individual or combination of an identification number, cautions or specifications, instructions, weight, ID number or UN marks. They must be printed on or affixed to the surface of a package or on a label, and be:

  • Durable
  • In English
  • Displayed on a background of sharply contrasting color
  • Unobscured by labels
  • Located away from other markings that could reduce its effectiveness

Labels that denote warnings of hazardous materials must be affixed to a surface area (other than the bottom of the package) and located near the shipping name marking. Colors and pictograms help identify the class— like explosives, gases, flammable liquids, etc. — and division of the dangerous goods. The appropriate hazard class or division must be displayed in the lower corner of the label. 

Items like batteries are subject to specific transportation requirements. This is due to the fact that if damaged or exposed to high temperatures, batteries can generate dangerous levels of heat, which lead them to create sparks or ignite. These regulations apply to batteries that are:

  • Lithium ion
  • Lithium metal
  • Lithium-ion polymer

There is no doubt that the amount of information pertaining to durable label requirements, standards and regulations is daunting, especially with all of the different agencies across the globe, but with some insight into their importance, employers can keep those handling dangerous materials safe.

This article is from Smith Corona. For more information, visit