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Pictograms are pictorial symbols for a word, phrase, object, or concept. Some familiar examples are the silhouette of man or woman to indicate the location of a restroom and the "No Smoking" signs that have the image of a lit cigarette with a red slash and circle.

Further Information

The word pictograph is a variant of "pictogram" and is sometimes used interchangeably. There are differences between the two terms, however they appear finely nuanced depending on many factors and as far as we know there is no clearcut differentiation. Some interpret pictograph to apply specifically to graphical data or even to rock drawings (which are more accurately described as petroglyphs).

SDS Relevance

NIOSHa-approved N99 masks next to its product box

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Paragraph (c) of 29 CFR 1910.1200, the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard, the primary regulation concerning (material) safety data sheets in the US, defines a pictogram as "a composition that may include a symbol plus other graphic elements, such as a border, background pattern, or color, that is intended to convey specific information about the hazards of a chemical. Eight pictograms are designated under this standard for application to a hazard category."

Appropriate pictograms are a required label element on any material shipped from a chemical manufacturer, importer or other "responsible party". Appendix C of the Standard explains the required label elements and paragraph C.2.3 specifically states:

C.2.3.1 Pictograms shall be in the shape of a square set at a point and shall include a black hazard symbol on a white background with a red frame sufficiently wide to be clearly visible. A square red frame set at a point without a hazard symbol is not a pictogram and is not permitted on the label.

C.2.3.2 One of eight standard hazard symbols shall be used in each pictogram. The eight hazard symbols are depicted in Figure C.1. A pictogram using the exclamation mark symbol is presented in Figure C.2, for the purpose of illustration.

C.2.3.3 Where a pictogram required by the Department of Transportation under Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations appears on a shipped container, the pictogram specified in C.4 for the same hazard shall not appear.

Note: The Standard does not require the use of pictograms on the SDS itself, although most responsible manufacturers will do so to preserve the correspondence between a substance's SDS and label.

The 8 GHS pictograms incorporate 16 physical, 10 health, and 3 environmental hazards. The hazard classification process that is used to assess the chemical may indicate the use of a given pictogram more than once, however, the label should bear no more than one instance of each pictogram (see Appendix C of the HazCom Standard, paragraph C.2.3.1), and each pictogram should be sufficiently large to be "clearly visible" (Appendix C, paragraph C.4).

Pictogram and
Hazard Class and Category Safety Emporium Item #
GHS exploding bomb pictogram

Exploding Bomb

Unstable explosives
Explosives: Division 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, and 1.4
Self-reactive substances and mixtures: Types A and B
Organic peroxides: Types A and B
GHS burning flame pictogram


Flammable gases: category 1
Flammable aerosols: categories 1 and 2
Flammable liquids: categories 1, 2 and 3
Flammable solids: categories 1 and 2
Self-reactive substances and mixtures: Types B, C, D, E, and F
Pyrophoric liquids: category 1
Pyrophoric solids: category 1
Self-heating substances and mixtures: categories 1 and 2
Substances and mixtures, which in contact with water, emit flammable gases: categories 1, 2, and 3
Organic peroxides: Types B, C, D, E, and F
GHS burning flame over a circle pictogram

Flame Over Circle

Oxidizing gases: category 1
Oxidizing liquids: categories 1, 2, and 3
GHS gas cylinder pictogram

Gas Cylinder

Gases under pressure, including compressed gases, liquified gases, refrigerated liquified gases, and dissolved gases.
GHS corrosion pictogram of acid pouring on hands and objects


Corrosive to metals: category 1
Skin corrosion: categories 1A, 1B, and 1C
Serious eye damage: category 1
skull and crossbones poison/toxic GHS pictogram

Skull and Crossbones

Acute toxicity (oral, dermal or inhalation): categories 1,2,3
exclamation mark GHS pictogram

Exclamation Mark

Acute toxicity (oral, dermal or inhalation): category 4
Skin irritation: category 2
Eye irritation: category 2
Skin sensitization: category 1
Specific Target Organ Toxicity (Single exposure): category 3
GHS health hazard pictogram

Health Hazard

Respiratory sensitization: category 1
Germ cell mutagenicity: categories 1A, 1B, and 2
Carcinogenicity: categories 1A, 1B, and 2
Reproductive toxicity: categories 1A, 1B, and 2
Specific Target Organ Toxicity (Single exposure): categories 1 and 2
Specific Target Organ Toxicity (Repeated exposure): categories 1 and 2
Aspiration Hazard, category 1
GHS environmental release pictogram


Hazardous to the aquatic environment (Acute hazard): category 1
Hazardous to the aquatic environment (Chronic hazard): categories 1 and 2

Some pictograms take precedence over others. Per paragraph C.2.1 of Appendix C of the HazCom Standard:

C.2.1 Precedence of hazard information

If the signal word "Danger" is included, the signal word "Warning" shall not appear;

If the skull and crossbones pictogram is included, the exclamation mark pictogram shall not appear where it is used for acute toxicity;

If the corrosive pictogram is included, the exclamation mark pictogram shall not appear where it is used for skin or eye irritation;

If the health hazard pictogram is included for respiratory sensitization, the exclamation mark pictogram shall not appear where it is used for skin sensitization or for skin or eye irritation.

Pad of assorted GHS pictogram labels

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Further Reading

See also: DOT, EINECS number, NSN and NIIN's, UN/NA numbers.

Additional definitions from Google and OneLook.

Entry last updated: Friday, September 18, 2020. This page is copyright 2000-2020 by ILPI. Unauthorized duplication or posting on other web sites is expressly prohibited. Send suggestions, comments, and new entry desires (include the URL if applicable) to us by email.

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