About BS5609 Label Durability for Marine and Extreme Environments

Editor’s note: This article was updated November, 2020

What is BS5609 compliance?

Companies transporting dangerous goods overseas are subject to International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) safety regulations. The IMDG outlines minimum safety standards for shipping and preventing ocean pollution by ships, including labeling requirements for hazardous chemicals.

A main requirement for chemical labeling components includes the use of durable labels that can stand up to the extremes of a marine environment (shipping by sea). “Durable” is interpreted as complying with British Standard 5609 (BS5609), also known as the Marine Immersion Label Testing Standard.

BS5609 compliance means the label has met the most stringent tests for durability in the industry and can withstand a three-month salt water submersion. Such rigorous standards ensure that if a chemical drum falls off a ship, the label will remain adhered, intact and legible after an extended period in the ocean.

drum with label in marine environment

Who enforces BS5609 standards and the IMDG?

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), which is a specialized United Nations (UN) agency, is responsible for maintaining and developing the IMDG. However, much like the ANSI vs. OSHA relationship, the IMO IS NOT responsible for enforcing the standards therein.

Domestic law enforcement agencies are responsible for enforcing IMDG standards, which include BS5609 compliance. In the United States, The Department of Transportation (DOT) enforces IMDG guidelines as it is concerned with any transportation of hazardous materials.

However, if a hazardous chemical arrives from a sea shipment with a label that is illegible, a citation could be issued from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) because it affects workplace safety.

How to make sure your labels are BS5609-certified

If your company manufacturers or distributes chemicals you’ll likely need BS5609-certified GHS labels unless you know for certain the shipments will never be transported by sea at any point. To avoid extra hassles, it’s safer to just use BS5609-compliant labels from the start so you know you’re covered no matter what.

In order for a label supplier or printer to claim their labels are BS5609-compliant they must have had them tested by an accredited third-party, such as Smithers. Their testing and calibration laboratories are internationally recognized by the International Standards Organization (ISO), meaning test reports and certificates will be accepted internationally without need for further testing.

When you’re sourcing BS5609-compliant label, reputable printers and/or label suppliers will be able to produce BS5609 certification upon request. It’s a good idea to print out the certification and keep it on file in case there is any question of compliance during an inspection. 

Why are BS5609 Section 2 and Section 3 tested separately?

BS5609 testing takes into account the performance of durable label materials themselves (the facestock, adhesive, topcoats etc.) as well as print stability on the labels. In order to ensure chemical safety labels remain adhered, intact and legible as long as possible, labels are subjected to two categories of testing for BS5609 compliance:

  • BS5609 Section 2 tests the pressure-sensitive adhesive coated label base material (this includes the facestock, adhesive and any additional topcoats).
  • BS5609 Section 3 tests the final printed label.

Just because a label is durable does not mean it is compatible with all types of printing processes and/or inks. It’s critical to determine which printing processes and/or inks work with specific durable labels for BS5609 compliance because labeling potentially hazardous chemicals can help save lives and prevent injuries.

Sticking with Smithers as an example, they note the following on their website:

  • Tests of the print method described in Section 3 can only be made on base labels that have already met the requirements of Section 2.
  • If a print method has been tested on Label A, it doesn't automatically follow that it will comply on Label B.
  • For complete compliance it is necessary to validate specific combinations of ink and base label.

What that means for you: If you’re sourcing or ordering BS5609-compliant labels for shipping chemicals by sea, it’s important to look for both Section 2 and Section 3 compliance, as well as Section 3 compliance for specific ink and label combinations.

BS5609-certified label suppliers and printers will have no problem producing this information for you either displayed on their website, product packaging or upon request. If the supplier or printer cannot provide this information, you should take your business elsewhere.  

BS5609 Section 2 compliance tests

BS5609 Section 2 tests are conducted on the blank pressure sensitive, adhesive coated base material. In other words, just the blank labels. They are designed to ensure that the labels remain adhered, intact and maintain dimensional stability in marine and extreme environments.

If the blank labels remain adhered, intact and maintain their original dimensions they are considered BS5609 Section 2 compliant. BS5609 Section 2 certification is a great way to judge material durability when considering labels for industrial use. However, it is only part of the IMDG and GHS durability requirements for hazardous chemicals shipped overseas.

As an example, here are the BS5609 Section 2 tests Smithers performs on blank labels:

  • Marine exposure of labels (carried out at a test site on the south coast of England). 
  • Dimensional stability under artificial weathering, 48 hour peel adhesion to aluminum plates 
  • Peel adhesion after temperature cycling: 7 days at 60°C (140°F) and 2 hours at 0°C (32°F)
  • Color fastness: exposed to artificial salt spray and sunlight.

BS5609 Section 3 compliance tests

BS5609 Section 3 tests are done on the final printed label. Once Section 2 tests have determined the label material will remain adhered and intact, Section 3 tests determine that the combination of label material, ink and the printing process are all compatible. The goal is to ensure that the print will remain legible.

Here are the BS5609 Section 3 tests Smithers performs on printed labels, provided the blank label material has already passed Section 2 certification:

  • Print key effectiveness: resistance to print removal using adhesive tape
  • Abrasion resistance: legibility and contrast after rolling in a mixture of sand and artificial sea water
  • Permanence of print: color fastness and residual contrast after exposure to artificial salt spray and sunlight.

BS5609 and GHS compliance

The goal of Globally Harmonized System (GHS) is to ensure the dangers of potentially hazardous chemicals are communicated to workers in the most universally understood way. BS5609 compliance matters because workers cannot remain informed and working safely if GHS labels fall off or are too damaged to read upon arrival. 

For this purpose, GHS compliance requires the labels on chemical containers shipped overseas to be durable enough to remain intact and legible. Just as with IMDG rules, under the GHS guidelines adopted by OSHA, “durable” is also interpreted as BS5609 compliant.

How to create GHS labels that meet full BS5609 compliance

Section 3 (print stability) is an aspect of BS5609 compliance that is often overlooked, or misunderstood. Examples of printing methods for creating BS509 Section 3 compliant labels include thermal transfer printing, laser printing or pigment inkjet printing. Each method can be done onsite, via professional printing services or some combination of the two.

Thermal transfer printing onsite. Prior to developments by Avery Industrial, thermal transfer labels were the only common BS5609-certified blank labels available for printing onsite.

Thermal Transfer PROS
Thermal Transfer CONS
  • Onsite and on demand printing
  • Does NOT require toner or regular ink refills
  • Recommended printers/ink ribbons generally include major brands
  • Printing BS5609-compliant labels fully onsite that meet GHS design standards requires a specific printing machine with a two-color ribbon (black and red)
  • Must following manufacturer-recommended printing methods and settings

Printing GHS labels onsite using laser/inkjet printers. Developments in label technology have made it possible to print GHS labels onsite using standard laser or inkjet printers.

Desktop Laser/Inkjet PROS
Desktop Laser/Inkjet CONS
  • Onsite and on demand printing
  • Does NOT require toner or regular ink refills
  • Recommended printers generally include major brands
  • Printer compatibility is required (laser printable GHS labels do not work with pigment inkjet printers and vice versa).
  • Must following manufacturer-recommended printing methods and settings

Custom-printed GHS labels. A convenient method for creating custom GHS labels that are BS5609-certified for both Section 2 and Section 3 is to simply use a professional printing service equipped for printing GHS labels.

Custom Printing PROS
Custom Printing CONS
  • Reduces wear and tear on facility printers
  • Typically high print quality
  • Printing services offered by GHS label suppliers can ensure and ink and/or printing method that is BS5609 compliant
  • Must be a printing service equipped for printing BS5609-compliant GHS labels
  • Production and shipment can take 3 days or more

Please note, the contents of this article and related articles on avery.com/industrial are for informational purposes only, are general in nature, and are not intended to and should not be relied upon or construed as a legal opinion or legal advice regarding any specific issue or factual circumstance.