Hazard symbol printing enhances safety with spot colour inks

New software for automatically generating hazard warning labels helps spot colour printers to comply with international hazard communication standards – enhancing plant safety and environmental protection.

Safety and environmental protection are key concerns for printers when handling inks and coatings. Like all chemical substances, these are potentially hazardous, and in certain conditions can cause a variety of problems. Hazardous materials may be:

  • carcinogenic
  • corrosive
  • irritating to skin or eyes
  • toxic

Hazard communication (‘HazCom’) in the workplace is essential for protecting both human health and the environment: accidents happen when people are not aware of the hazard – or are not trained or equipped to work with hazardous materials.

It’s imperative, then, that employees understand the risks presented by the substances they are working with, and what precautions they must take, to keep themselves and their environment safe.

Why labelling hazardous chemicals is crucial for workplace safety

Around the world, there are laws on how to identify hazardous chemicals in the workplace, and how to communicate those hazards to others. The United States’ Hazard Communication Standard is one example; the EU regulation on the classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures is another.

Product labelling is just one part of the wide ranging documentation requirements. For printers, that means all vessels containing inks must contain appropriate, recognized warnings, usually on a self-adhesive label.  This includes buckets being used to transport or store mixtures in the plant, as well as the big drums of base inks that arrive from the ink manufacturer.

GHS – a world-wide safety standard for hazard symbols

En la mayoría de las regiones, es obligatorio utilizar el Sistema Globalmente Armonizado de las Naciones Unidas, o ‘GHS’, para identificar y etiquetar los productos químicos. Este sistema utiliza símbolos para comunicar peligros para la salud, el medio ambiente y físicos que son claros y comúnmente entendidos en las cadenas de suministro globales.


Given the expanding international market in chemical substances and mixtures, to help protect people and the environment, and to facilitate trade, the United Nations (UN) has therefore developed a ‘Globally Harmonized System’ (GHS) of classification and labelling of chemicals.

The GHS is a single worldwide system for classifying and communicating the hazardous properties of industrial and consumer chemicals. GHS sits alongside the UN ‘Transport of Dangerous Goods’ system.

The UN brought together experts from different countries to create the GHS with the aim to have, worldwide, the same::

  • criteria for classifying chemicals according to their health, environmental and physical hazards
  • hazard communication requirements for labelling and safety data sheets

The GHS is not a formal treaty, but instead is a non-legally binding international agreement. Therefore, countries (or trading blocs) must create local or national legislation to implement the GHS.

The EU CLP Regulation adopts the GHS throughout Member States of the European Union. Following the UK’s exit from the EU, the CLP Regulation has been retained in UK law, with some minor changes, to become the UK CLP Regulation. These arrangements mean the UK continues to adopt GHS.

Why spot colour printers must take extra care

So, if a base ink or varnish contains hazardous chemicals, the printer receives it from the manufacturer with appropriate warning labels attached to the drum.  However, packaging and label printers that make special brand colours by mixing base inks together must take extra care to comply with hazard communications legislations.

Every time an ink mixture is dispensed or poured into a new container, the hazard associated with any of its ingredients is passed on to the new blend. The critical hazard information is likely to get lost – unless an appropriate label for the new container is generated at the point of transfer.

Transferring information with GSE Hazard symbol printing

With this in mind, we at GSE have devised a special software program specifically to help spot colour printers comply with HazCom standards.

GSE Hazard symbol printing software solves the problem of tracing and communicating the occasional presence of hazardous chemicals in special brand colours. Whenever ink ingredients are dispensed or transferred from one container to the next, it prints the appropriate hazard label for the new container.

Only one point of data entry is needed – when new inks arrive from the supplier. The user may assign up to five symbols to base components listed in the inventory database.

Symbols that may be printed are defined in the Guidance Document to support implementation of the GHS of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. They comprise symbols for flammable, irritating, toxic and environmentally dangerous substances.

The assigned symbols are automatically printed on the label of the batch if the ingredient is in the blended colour. And if any of the blended ink is returned to stock after printing, and reused for another job, the software ensures that the correct hazard symbols are also printed.

Depending on the current label design it may be necessary that GSE supplies longer labels to fit the additional symbols. If you want to show the symbols in colour, you will need a colour printer or pre-printed label paper instead.

GSE Hazard symbol printing is intended for flexo, gravure and screen process printers and is compatible with the latest version of GSE’s Ink manager software.

Remember: it only has to happen once!

If it seems excessive to print a new label ‘just’ to transfer a mixture from the dispenser to the press, beware: any hazardous chemical without a warning is an accident waiting to happen – whether it’s waiting for the next job within the hour, or it’s being kept in long-term storage.

Safety is a discipline that requires full-time vigilance – and is, after all, essential for success.

For more information

Contact us to learn how GSE Hazard symbol printing can help you and your people work safely when mixing and handling inks and coatings.