Companies that manufacture and ship hazardous chemicals are by now well aware of the labeling standards commonly referred to by the acronym GHS. What exactly is GHS and how does it affect the print process, particularly in the thermal transfer environment?

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) is a set of standards developed under the auspices of the United Nations for classifying and labeling chemical hazards with a view to providing a consistent labeling scheme for worldwide usage. As one might imagine, the transport of hazardous chemicals in international trade poses many risks. While individual nations had over the years developed their own standards for classifying and labeling such materials, they were, not unexpectedly, inconsistent with one another both in the identification of products and in the level of hazard associated with them, not to mention the specific layout of hazard labels. Because of the inherent dangers involved in the transport of such materials, it was realized that a standardization of the ways in which chemicals are identified and labeled would serve to enhance safety in the movement of materials from place to place, as well as in terms of storage and disposal.

So what sorts of standards were created? In simple terms, there are three important elements: 1) the use of pictograms or symbols to represent certain classes of chemical hazards, 2) signal words to define the degree of danger, and 3) a hazard warning statement.

Of these three things, the pictograms are of particular concern in the thermal transfer context because they necessitate the use of at least one color in addition to black. The nine most common of these symbols use a red diamond shaped-border, within which a black symbol is situated against a white background. Thus, since almost all thermal transfer printers utilize only a single color, usually black, how do we deal with the introduction of another color to the mix?

One approach is simply to utilize labels that are preprinted with the appropriate pictogram, and then use the thermal printer to provide all of the other elements of the label. It is possible to have labels preprinted with just the red border image, while the black portion of the symbol is supplied by the thermal printer. Such preprinted labels are already available, with differing numbers of red diamonds on them to account for variations in the type of chemical hazard.

The use of preprinted labels with thermal transfer printers is quite common already, and so the standards imposed under GHS may be considered another opportunity to employ the same sort of method. Of course, there is also a considerable variety of thermal transfer printers that could be employed depending on the size of the label to be printed, including wide industrial models such as the Avery-Dennison 64-08, Toshiba B-SX8, or Toshiba B-852, among others. In short there are plenty of situations in which thermal transfer printers can be utilized to handle GHS labels.

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