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How to read MSDS, SDS, WHMIS, PSDS data

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Productlabels should (if applicable) show warning signs based on their MSDS data (Also referred to as PSDS, SDS or WHMIS). These logo’s all have different meanings and give you a good visual warning on the dangerous properties.


Why logos on labels

The logo’s used on labels are designed to give you a clear and visual warning about properties that might be important to you. Think of a flammable liquid, or very corrosive ingredients. The user needs to be aware of these properties before they put themselves at risk. Seeing as some detailers work with on a daily basis with several types of chemicals, they are frequently exposed to dangerous chemicals. Knowing how to protect yourself, or how to handle a certain product, will keep you and your surroundings safe.

Not all logo’s described or used by the ISO are aimed at safe use of products. Many signs are aimed at a safe working environment. To have a safe workplace, you also need to know how to use machines, products and/or precautions regarding fire, body protection etc. Logo’s placed on products combined with a MSDS are just a small part of the safe working environment.

1 sheet with all images

It would be great if there could be 1 huge sheet with all the logo’s and their meaning. But this is difficult. The ISO (Internatioal Standards Organization) decides what the rules are for the design of logo’s, but they don’t make them themselves. So different manufacturers can use slightly different logo’s (as long as they adhere to the rules and regulations set by the ISO organization regarding their design).

To get a full view of all the logo’s allowed by the ISO, you would need to purchase several different ISO documents (depending on the category). However, just like traffic signs, there are some basic rules that are easy to learn and understand:. Note that not all of these will be found on products, could be used in workplaces.

  • Design: Yellow triangle with black border and black symbol
    Type: Warning sign
    Description: Warns of hazards which could result in personal injury or threat to health
  • Design: Red ring and diagonal bar with black symbol on white background
    Type: Prohibition sign
    Description: Specifies behaviour that is prohibited because it would result in an immediate or potential risk of personal injury or threat to health.
  • Design: Blue circle with white symbol
    Type: Mandatory action sign
    Description: Specifies an action required to safeguard personal health and/or avoid risk of personal injury.
  • Design: Green square with white symbol
    Type: Safe condition sign
    Description: Identifies evacuation routes and assembly points. Indicates the location of first aid and emergency equipment or a safety facility or a safety action.
  • Design: Red square with white symbol, and always including representation of flames in white
    Type: Fire safety sign
    Description: Indicates the location of fire equipment.

ISO certification

There are different standards, which means that a manufacturer needs to be aware of the correct category the product belongs to. Several bigger manufacturers hire a schooled Compliancy specialist to do this for them. For smaller manufacturers this means a load of extra work. There are also agencies that can be hired to process this information for them.

An example of the ISO’s connected with the visual representation of warning labels:

  • The ISO 3864 series of standards which specify design requirements, including shapes and colours, for safety signs
  • The ISO/IEC 80416 series of standards which specify basic principles for graphical symbols for use on equipment
  • ISO 7000, Graphical symbols for use on equipment – Registered symbols
  • ISO 7001, Graphical symbols – Public information symbols
  • ISO 7010, Graphical symbols – Safety colours and safety signs – Registered safety signs
  • ISO 17724, Graphical symbols – Vocabulary
  • ISO 20712-1, Water safety signs and beach safety flags – Part 1 : Specifications for water safety signs used in workplaces and public areas
  • ISO 20712-2,Water safety signs and beach safety flags – Part 2 : Specifications for beach safety flags – Colour, shape, meaning and performance
  • ISO 20712-3, Water safety signs and beach safety flags – Part 3 : Guidance for use
  • ISO 22727, Graphical symbols – Creation and design of public information symbols – Requirements
  • ISO/IEC Guide 74, Graphical symbols – Technical guidelines for the consideration of consumers’ needs

The MSDS logo explained

The tilted square MSDS logo can also be used on products, below you can see how it works:

MSDS logo explained
MSDS logo explained

The MSDS datasheet itself

More information regarding the MSDS, PSDS, SDS or WHMIS datasheet can be found at: What is MSDS, SDS, WHMIS, PSDS.

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