Master the Hazard Symbols and Their Meanings | EcoOnline US

Don’t Risk It: Master the Hazard Symbols and Their Meanings

Written by Dan Ryder

Published June 12, 2023

Understanding SDS Section 2 will help you identify potential hazards and take necessary precautions.

Are you trying to figure out how to best use Safety Data Sheets, but have more questions than answers? Well, you’re not alone. People frequently ask questions like... 

  • How many sections are there in a safety data sheet? (And how do I use them to do my job effectively?) 
  • What does a safety data sheet provide information on? (And what am I supposed to do with the information?) 
  • And what does a safety data sheet contain that other employees need to know?  

It’s easiest if you start by looking at one section at a time, so we’re going to dive into one of the most important parts of an SDS, Section 2. This section provides hazard identification for the chemical and information you need to have on the product label. 

Most companies have processes to ensure they comply with local legislative requirements for the chemicals they buy. They ensure they obtain the proper safety data sheet for those products. But too often, they don’t have processes in place to help you understand how to use the information the SDS provides to help keep yourself and your co-workers safe.  

SDS management software can help clarify data that’s essential to ensure employee protection. 

Safety data sheets quiz

SDS Section 2: Precautionary measures you should take to safely handle chemicals

Handling chemicals improperly could cause physical, health, and environmental hazards in your workplace. The hazard identification section of the SDS is usually the first item in Section 2. This information is essential for conducting risk assessments of your workers and the environment.  

The regulatory body in the USA, OSHA HCS, requires SDS to include the following information. 

  1. The hazard classification of the chemical  
  2. Signal word.
  3. Hazard statement(s).
  4. Pictograms (the pictograms or hazard symbols may be presented as graphical reproductions of the symbols in black and white or be a description of the name of the symbol e.g. skull and crossbones or flame).
  5. Precautionary statement(s).
  6. Description of any hazards not otherwise classified.
  7. For a mixture that contains an ingredient(s) with unknown toxicity, a statement describing how much (percentage) of the mixture consists of ingredient(s) with unknown acute toxicity. 

The regulatory body for Canada, the WHMIS, requires SDS to include the following information. 

  1. Classification of the hazardous product
  2. Symbol(s)
  3. Signal word
  4. Hazard statement(s)
  5. Precautionary statement(s)
  6. Other hazards

In the United States, pictograms or hazard symbols may be presented as graphical reproductions of the symbols in black and white or be a description of the name of the symbol (e.g. skull and crossbones, flame). In Canada, the hazard symbols or pictograms must appear as a diamond on the label and have a black symbol on a white background with a red frame. 


The OSHA HCS and WHMIS both introduce several different classification hazards under the groups; physical, health and environmental (non-mandatory). These hazards can range from acute toxicity to environmental hazards to skin sensitization. Although companies have some leeway about displaying this information, they cannot exclude it from their SDSs altogether. 

EcoOnline can make your SDS easier to manage

Our system collects the information from Section 2 and displays the Hazard Pictograms and Codes in an easily understood product screen. You also have the power to complete risk assessments and pull reports on this information to keep track of your hazardous products without needing to update and keep track of an offline register. We also review the SDSs of your product annually, giving you the security of knowing that your SDSs are up to date and listing the current hazards for your products.

Safety data sheets quiz

Author Dan Ryder

Dan is an experienced copywriter with a master's degree from the Manchester Writing School. He joined EcoOnline in November 2022. 

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