Defining Durability For Industrial Labels

In manufacturing facilities and similar settings, labels that can withstand harsh conditions and meet GHS labels requirements go a long way.

By Del Williams

Although standard “office” labels are more than sufficient for routine applications like filing, addressing envelopes, and shipping boxes, these are not designed to withstand the range of conditions and hazards found in harsh industrial settings such as warehouses, production lines, laboratories, and construction sites.GHS labels

There are film labels available that are engineered to such industrial environments. Some are even tested and certified to meet existing safety and regulatory requirements. These self-adhesive labels can be utilized for everything from bar-coded asset tags on machinery to location IDs on parts bins and affixed to a variety of surfaces found in industrial settings such as metal, wood (pallets), glass, plastic, and ceramic.

There can be serious consequences to using standard paper labels in an industrial setting. For example, exposure to moisture, abrasion, chemicals, heat, and even sunlight can lead to torn, smeared, discolored, unreadable labels, or labels that fall off.

This can compromise safety, reduce productivity, and may lead to regulatory fines or legal consequences. It is much more cost-effective to use the right label from the start.

Since standard paper office labels are intended for an indoor environment, the topcoat is not waterproof, and the paper substrate tears easily and is not moisture or chemical resistant.

In contrast, film labels can have a protective topcoat that is waterproof, even extremely chemical resistant in some instances. The substrate is a durable, scuff and tear-resistant film that can be made from materials like polyester and vinyl. The adhesive is high performance permanent that is also waterproof and chemical resistant. While the topcoat, substrate and adhesive can vary for an industrial label, each adds a level of strength to the entire label “sandwich” construction.

One innovation, self-laminating labels, addresses a common workaround when using office-grade labels: covering them with clear tape in an attempt to increase longevity. By offering true lamination that can be easily applied by the user, self-laminating labels provide extra protection against abrasion, dirt, moisture, chemicals, and UV.

Labels For Longevity, And GHS Labels Requirements

For Natalie Davis, a product design drafter and safety coordinator at Itasca, IL-based Solberg Manufacturing, utilizing paper labels covered with tape was not working. “Our previous labels on our acetone and alcohol dispensers in the production area kept rubbing off and had to be replaced,” she explains. “We tried putting see-through tape over the labels for protection, but the incompatibility of the tape with the harsh chemicals caused the tape to crinkle and the label was impossible to read.”

GHS labels
Standard paper label (at left) seen alongside a self-laminating label (at right)

When Davis switched to Self-Laminating Labels, she found it resolved any issues of label readability and longevity.

“I put the durable labels with clear self lamination on all our dispensers, and after weeks of use and handling, it hasn’t really affected the labels,” says Davis. “The label information is easy to read and the clear lamination is easy to clean if it gets dirty. This has improved safety and saves the time and expense of having to print new labels and switch the labels every week.”

Global Harmonized System (GHS) labels represent another improvement in label durability that can be critical to achieving compliance with new government regulations. GHS labels, which are regulated by OSHA and established by the United Nations to create a unified system for identifying and communicating hazardous chemicals, are required on chemical containers, including smaller containers used in down packing.

When Lani O’Connor, a safety manager at Tollman Spring Co. could not find any small GHS labels, “As a temporary solution, I began printing our GHS labels on regular paper stock,” she says. “Since they weren’t chemical resistant, the ink would quickly smear and run. I was spending a lot of time printing and replacing labels.”

After doing some research, O’Connor discovered Avery UltraDuty GHS Chemical Labels. These labels were created to withstand outdoor use for up to two years, are tested to be waterproof for at least 90 days and resist a wide variety of chemicals while remaining difficult to tear. Due to the harsh environments these labels are used in, the products are typically rub-tested with wet sandpaper.

“The first time the labels came out of our printer they worked perfectly,” says O’Connor. “The labels are chemical resistant and are available in a number of sizes that accommodate all of our GHS labeling needs.”

Armed with a better understanding of industrial labels, safety and facility managers can now avoid the pitfalls of using office-grade paper labels in such harsh settings. By doing so, companies not only eliminate the time and energy required for frequent replacement of labels, but can also avoid potential confusion and the additional hidden costs when labels become unreadable, fall-off, or otherwise fail.

Williams is a technical writer based in Torrance, CA.