Lab Safety Symbols
Written by Steve Hudgik
Safety labels and signs typically include both color and symbols, in addition to text. Symbols and colors communicate faster than words. Just a quick glance at a safety symbol can warn you about a hazard and provide the information you need to avoid that hazard.
Laboratories use the same colors and safety symbols as are used in other workplaces. However, laboratories have additional hazards which require additional symbols. This overview looks at some of the common symbols, as well as laboratory specific symbols. (Note: some school labs do not follow the standard symbol conventions and create their safety symbols. It is highly recommend that all types of laboratories use the standard safety symbols.)
Lab Safety Symbols - Making Labels and Signs
In some cases the symbols you'll see here will be on labels that come with materials shipped to the lab. In other cases the lab will need to make their own labels. Having a DuraLabel custom label printer in your lab is the best and most convenient way to make the labels and signs you need. With DuraLabel you can include any symbol you need, and make any size or any type of label or sign. In addition, DuraLabel gives you the best warranties, software and symbols libraries are included at no extra charge, and you get friendly customer support that is free for as long as you are a DuraLabel customer. Call 1-888-326-9244 for more information about DuraLabel printers and tough-tested supplies.
Lab Safety Symbols - GHS Symbols
The Globally Harmonized System (GHS) provides a standardized way of labeling hazardous material. If you work in a laboratory, you'll probably encounter GHS labels and the GHS standard symbols. The GHS standard defines nine symbols that are used on GHS labels. You may also see these symbols, without the red border, used on other safety labels or safety signs. These symbols are:
This symbol indicates materials that are highly reactive and explosive. These include:
- Unstable explosives
- Division 1.1 - Chemicals and items which have a mass explosion hazard
- Division 1.2 - Chemicals and items which have a projection hazard but not a mass explosion hazard
- Division 1.3 - Chemicals and items which have a fire hazard and either a minor blast hazard or a minor projection hazard or both, but not a mass explosion hazard
- Division 1.4 - Chemicals and items which present no significant hazard: chemicals and items which present only a small hazard in the event of ignition or initiation. The effects are largely confined to the package and no projection of fragments of appreciable size or range is to be expected. An external fire shall not cause virtually instantaneous explosion of almost the entire contents of the package;
- Self-reactive substances and mixtures, types A, B
- Organic peroxides
This is the GHS symbol used to identify flammable materials. These types of materials include:
- Flammable gases, category 1
- Flammable aerosols, categories 1, 2
- Flammable liquids, categories 1, 2, 3
- Flammable solids, categories 1, 2
- Self-reactive substances and mixtures, types B, C, D, E, F
- Pyrophoric liquids, category 1
- Pyrophoric solids, category 1
- Self-heating substances and mixtures, categories 1, 2
- Substances and mixtures, which in contact with water, emit flammable gases, categories 1, 2, 3
- Organic peroxides
Oxidizing gases are identified by this GHS symbol. Oxidizing gas means any gas which may, generally by providing oxygen, cause or contribute to the combustion of other material more than air does. These include:
- Oxidizing gases, category 1
- Oxidizing liquids, categories 1, 2, 3
- Oxidizing solids, categories
The GHS symbol identifying gases stored under pressure is shown to the right. Gases under pressure are gases which are contained in a receptacle at a pressure of 200 kPa (29 psi gauge) or more, or which are liquefied or liquefied and cooled (refrigerated).
The following materials are identified by this symbol:
- Compressed gases
- Liquefied gases
- Refrigerated liquefied gases
- Dissolved gases
This symbol identifies materials that are corrosive to metal or to the skin. A chemical which is corrosive to metals means a chemical which through chemical action will materially damage, or even destroy, metals.
- Corrosive to metals
- Skin corrosion
- Serious eye hazard
This symbols identifies a poison - a material with acute toxicity. Acute toxicity refers to the adverse effects occurring following either a single oral or skin exposure to the substance, or exposure to multiple doses within 24 hours, or an inhalation exposure of 4 hours.
The official GHS definition of this symbol is, "Acute toxicity (oral, dermal, inhalation)."
This GHS symbol identifies materials that have acute toxicity, but to a lower degree than the skull and crossbones symbol. It indicates:
- Acute toxicity (oral, dermal, inhalation), category 4
- Skin irritation, categories 2, 3
- Eye irritation, category 2A
- Skin sensitization, category 1
- Specific target organ toxicity following single exposure, category 3
- Respiratory tract irritation
- Narcotic effects
When you see this symbol it is indicating a material that can harm the respiratory system. Known as a "respiratory sensitizer," these are chemicals that will lead to hypersensitivity of the airways following inhalation of the chemical.
- Respiratory sensitization, category 1
- Germ cell mutagenicity, categories 1A, 1B, 2
- Carcinogenicity, categories 1A, 1B, 2
- Reproductive toxicity, categories 1A, 1B, 2
- Specific target organ toxicity following single exposure, categories 1, 2
- Specific target organ toxicity following repeated exposure, categories 1, 2
- Aspiration hazard, categories
The ninth GHS symbols identifies materials that are hazardous to the environment. These include:
- Acute hazards to the aquatic environment, category 1
- Chronic hazards to the aquatic environment, categories
Lab Safety Symbols - Safety Information
Green is the color used for safety information signs and labels. One of the purposes of these types of safety signs is to identify the locations of safety supplies and emergency equipment. Examples include identifying the location of a first aid kit or an emergency eye wash station. Green safety signs also provide safety reminders and safety messages.
Two of the common safety information symbols are:
First Aid Symbol - indicates the location of first aid supplies.
Eye wash symbol - indicates the location of an emergency eye wash station
Lab Safety Symbols - Warnings About Hazardous Material
Biohazard symbol - biohazards originate with living organisms that can result in harm to a person. In addition to living cells, any object such as needles, clothing, instruments, and containers, that has been in contact with living materials is considered to be a biohazard.
The biohazard symbol indicates the presence of a biological hazard. This symbol is typically shown with an orange background, indicating "warning." Labels with this symbol should be placed on any container that could hold materials that present a biological hazard. Signs with this symbol warn people about areas in which there are materials that could present a biological hazard.
Radioactiove symbol - this symbol warns people that there may be radioactivity in the area. Signs and labels use this symbol to identify containers, materials and areas in which there is a potential for a radiation hazard. Only people who are trained for working with or near radiation hazards should be in areas where this symbol is displayed.
Lab Safety Symbols - Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Laboratories use the same symbols for PPE as are used in general industry. These symbols usually show a pictogram of the PPE that needs to be worn. Three of the common PPE required symbols are:
Eye Protection Required - indicates that eye protection must be used when working in the area where this symbol is displayed.
Face Shield Required - in areas where this symbol is used a face shield must be used. If a container has a label with this symbol, you must put on a face shield before opening the container.
Apron Must Be Worn - this symbol indicates that an apron must be worn.
Lab Safety Symbols - Other Common Safety Symbols
No Open Flames - when you see thus symbol there is a high potential for a fire or explosion. All open flames are prohibited.
Electrical Hazard - a lightening bolt typically indicates an electrical hazard. The hazard could be high voltages, exposure to energized conductors, or any other electrical hazard.
Strong Magnetic Field - when you see this symbol be aware that a strong magnetic field exists at some times. Ensure that there is no metal in your clothing, shoes, pockets, belt or body.
Tripping Hazard - watch where you are putting your feet when you see this symbol. It indicates there is a tripping hazard. This could include small changes in level or temporary materials on the floor.
Inhalation Hazard - this symbol warns about the possible presence of a gas that can be hazardous if inhaled. Do not expect to smell gases that are hazardous. Many hazardous gases, such as CO2, have no smell.
Lab Safety Symbols - Specialized Symbols
The following symbols are more specialized and are typically only found in laboratories.
Animal Safety - this symbols indicates live animals are kept in the laboratory. You must be aware of the measures that need to be taken to ensure both human safety and the safety of the animals when working in a lab where there are live animals.
Disposal Alert - this symbol serves as a reminder that materials in the laboratory must be properly disposed. Hazardous materials must be placed in appropriate, designated containers, for disposal.
Fume Safety - this symbol warns about chemicals and chemical reactions that may create dangerous fumes.
Electrical Safety - this is a generic symbol used to remind people to use care when using electrical devices and equipment.
Plant Caution - when you see this symbol it is providing a warning about a hazardous plant. The hazard may be that the plant is poisonous, the plant can irritate the skin, that the plant has thorns, or some other hazard.
Chemical Safety - this symbol provides a warning about hazardous chemicals that can cause harm when absorbed through the skin. This is a generic warning that indicates the chemical may be poisonous, may cause burns, or may irritate the skin.
Sharp Object Warning - this symbol is used to warn about sharp object that can puncture or cut.