What GHS Pictograms Mean

With the implementation of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for communicating, chemical-related hazards, GHS pictograms have become an important tool in relaying information from the manufacturer to the user where safe product handling is concerned. As part of the larger GHS classification system, these safety labels are designed to convey the information in a consistent manner regardless of who manufactures the product or in what country it is used.

There are nine standard pictograms used on GHS labels, plus a 10th one that is used to indicate biohazards. It has a round black border with the biohazard symbol inside it. Whenever this symbol is used, individuals handling the product should take precautions to avoid being exposed to a communicable disease, especially those that are blood borne like HIV or hepatitis.

The other nine GHS pictograms have a red diamond-shaped border. Some describe this diamond shape as a square standing on one of its corners. Regardless of the way it is described, inside the red border will be a black and white symbol that represents a particular type of hazard.

Health Hazard

The health hazard pictogram resembles a person’s upper torso, neck and head in black with a star-like emblem over the chest in white. Whenever this symbol is used on a label there is potential for the product to be a carcinogen. It could also mean that there are concerns with mutagenicity, reproductive, target organ or aspiration toxicity, or respiratory sensitization.

Exclamation Mark

This symbol refers to health hazards also, but to those that are more of an acute nature. Products that can be skin or eye irritants or skin sensitizers will have this pictogram on the label. It could also mean the product has some narcotic effects or can irritate the respiratory tract.

Skull and Crossbones

As one might expect, the skull and crossbones represents poisonous characteristics of the product. Whenever this symbol is part of the label, there is an acute toxicity risk. Even death from a short exposure is problem. Safe handling of the product should not be taken lightly.


The corrosion symbol is that of a product dripping from a test tube onto a piece of metal or onto a person’s hand. It is used to indicate the presence of acids or caustics that can cause chemical burns to skin or can corrode metal.


The picture of a flame in the pictogram means the product is flammable. It can also emit flammable gas or be an organic peroxide.

Flame over Circle

A flame over a circle means the product is an oxidizer. These chemicals support combustion and should never be stored in close proximity to flammables.

Exploding Bomb

This symbol designates explosive material or something that can react explosively with other incompatible materials.

Gas Cylinder

Products that are gasses and are in pressurized containers will have the gas cylinder pictogram as part of the label.


The environment pictogram shows a tree and a fish and is used to indicate the potential for aquatic toxicity of the product.
More information can be found if you visit the ICC Compliance Center website.

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