Labels and MSDS-Environmental Health & Safety - Carnegie Mellon University

Labels and MSDS


The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration has specified requirements for chemical container labels in the two applicable regulations, The Hazard Communication Standard (for use in non-laboratory areas) and the Laboratory Safety Standard (for laboratory areas.) Changes adopted by OSHA in 2012 are now in effect. Please read the following summary of the current labeling requirements:

All manufacturers of products with hazardous constituents must provide a “Globally Harmonized System” (GHS) compliant label on the container. The label must contain the following information:

  • Name of the product
  • Name, address of the manufacturer
  • A 24-hour emergency response phone number
  • Appropriate hazard identification
  • Appropriate precautionary statements
  • Applicable GHS pictograms (See the fact Sheet: “New Hazard Communication Pictograms” in the Fact Sheet section of our main web page.)
  • Either the words “warning” or “danger”, with danger indicating the more serious hazard

In either lab or non-lab situations, the label may NOT be removed or defaced until the container is empty.

If in a non-lab work area, hazardous material is to be taken from the original container and placed in a secondary container (such as for a smaller, handier container, or a dilution or mixture of the material), that secondary container also needs a GHS-compliant label. EH&S can prepare compliant labels for you. Contact them at 421-268-8182 for assistance.

As of this writing, it has NOT YET been determined whether this secondary container requirement also applies to laboratories. It is STRONGLY recommended that it been done, nevertheless. As a very minimum, all containers in a lab setting MUST be labeled with at least the contents of the container.

Also, the GHS requirements are not applicable to containers of chemicals purchased and put into service PRIOR to the adoption of the GHS. These older containers likely have an older system of hazard warning, outlined below:

There are two common symbols used on older labels to quickly provide information of the relative hazards of a material. One is called the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) warning diamond, which appears below as Figure 1. The other is the Hazard Materials Information System (HMIS) system, which appears below as Figure 2. Both systems use a numerical rating of hazards in each of three sections (health hazard, fire/flammability hazard and reactivity hazard). The key to the hazards associated with the numerical ratings is provided below.

Figure 1
Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 2
Health Hazard Ratings: 0 - Ordinary combustible hazards in a fire
1 - Slightly hazardous
2 - Hazardous
3 - Extreme danger
4 - Deadly
Flammability Hazard Ratings: 0 - Will not burn
1 - Will ignite if preheated
2 - Will ignite if moderately heated
3 - Will ignite at most ambient conditions
4 - Burns readily at ambient conditions
Reactivity Hazard Ratings: 0 - Stable and not reactive with water
1 - Unstable if heated
2 - Violent chemical change
3 - Shock and heat may detonate
4 - May detonate


Under the GHS, the documents formerly known as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are now correctly known as Safety Data Sheets, or SDS. For the most part, these two versions of the document are the same; the SDS requires the same 16 sections of information only now they must be in a standardized order.

All persons working with hazardous materials must have easy access to the SDS or MSDS for the materials they work with. Carnegie Mellon allows those responsible (supervisor, researcher or instructor) for a given work area to meet this requirement in two different fashions.

  • The MSDS/SDS may be present in paper form in the work area, where all applicable persons have access to them.
  • The MSDS/SDS may be accessed through the internet, PROVIDED that it has been confirmed that MSDS for all materials are available in this fashion AND that all applicable employees have access to the internet and are able to obtain MSDS in this way.

To locate current SDS, go to the main EH&S web page,, and select the MSDS link. It will send you to a site called “MSDS On-line”. You will need to enter your Andrew ID to access the site. At the site, you will have access to several million MSDS/SDS. You can search by material, chemical and even by manufacturer, to obtain the most current document for your use. Please contact EH&S with any questions.