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

J Safety Res. 2013 Sep:46:145-55. doi: 10.1016/j.jsr.2013.06.001. Epub 2013 Jun 14.


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 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.

Keywords: GHS; Hazard communication; Label; SDS; Safety data sheet.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Comprehension*
  • Consumer Product Safety
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Environmental Exposure / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Guideline Adherence / statistics & numerical data
  • Hazardous Substances / classification*
  • Health Communication / methods
  • Health Communication / standards*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Material Safety Data Sheets / statistics & numerical data*
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects
  • Occupational Exposure / prevention & control
  • Product Labeling / methods*
  • Product Labeling / standards
  • Protective Devices / adverse effects
  • Safety Management / methods*
  • Safety Management / standards
  • Self-Assessment
  • Symbolism
  • United States
  • United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration


  • Hazardous Substances