Simplification of labeling through technology

Written on: March 1, 2022 by Nicholas Georges

Advancements in technology can offer consumers, workers and businesses a number of opportunities for improvement. For the household and commercial products industry, that means making processes and products easier, cleaner and ultimately, better.

However, change can be hard, and companies often move cautiously to ensure that the next generation of technology not only improves the business, but also meets consumer expectations.

Unfortunately, regulations and legislation can sometimes inhibit companies from utilizing the latest technology. The U.S. aerosol industry has experienced this with alternative technology to the hot water bath test.

Labels are another area where technology could help make significant improvements for both companies and the public.

Labels provide the end-user with the instructions they need to safely use a product, while also providing essential hazard and Right to Know information. In addition, the label is a valuable tool to market a product, including its brand, feature and how to properly dispose of the product after it’s used.

There are a multitude of regulations concerning what is required to appear on a label, depending on what the product is and where it’s being sold. Regulations don’t only require certain text to be on the product label, but also dictate the location and type size. They can also require compliance with specific product testing and ensure that regulators can verify compliance or enforcement.

For the aerosol industry, product labels are dictated by a number of Federal government agencies, including the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).

There are also a number of State labeling requirements to consider, as well. In California, companies have to consider compliance requirements for products with regulations such as Proposition 65,i the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act of 2017ii or the Cosmetic Fragrance & Flavor Ingredient Right to Know Act of 2020.iii Other States also have laws and regulations that can impact a product’s label, such as Right to Know requirements in New Jerseyiv and Pennsylvaniav or provisions for products with elemental phosphorus.vi

Developing a label that complies with all requirements and obligations is difficult. A single “wrong” word or punctuation misplacement can be the difference between a compliant label and having to deal with enforcement. In the case of products registered under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), the product label can only use what has been approved in the master label by the EPA. Additionally, a single word can be the trigger for the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to place a product into a category that has a lower volatile organic compound (VOC) limit and constrain the formulation.

All of the information on a label can be overwhelming for consumers and workers. However, while workers are trained by employers to understand hazard communication, the average consumer may not always understand what a label is telling them.

Luckily, technology can help solve this challenge. If regulatory frameworks provided the option to use QR codes or websites, manufacturers and marketers could provide the essential information on a label and digitize other, non-essential information. This would allow consumers and workers to have access to all the information they could want about a product. Using electronic measures to communicate information that is normally found on the label has the potential to improve readability, allow for more languages, enlarge font sizes and standardize the means to share additional information. This is an appealing option because a product’s physical label can show the necessary information, while additional information can be found digitally, should the end-user choose to read it.

Electronic labeling is not a way to avoid regulations; rather, digitalization means utilizing an already existing option, such as SmartLabel® or a proprietary system designed by a company. What is important is that end-users and workers have the information readily accessible—not only at home or in the workplace, but also on their mobile devices.

The European Commission already has an initiative that simplifies and digitalizes labeling requirements.vii The European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) also provides initial information about digitalizing the hazard information for chemical productsviii to the United Nations Sub- Committee of Experts on the Globally Harmonized System of Classification & Labeling of Chemicals (UNSCEGHS). As part of OSHA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemakingix in updating the Hazard Communication Standard to align with GHS Revision 7, the agency solicited input from stakeholders regarding the potential use of electronic communication. Stakeholders, including the Household & Commercial Products Association (HCPA), expressed support to explore such measures.

To truly simplify labels, the Federal government needs to be involved and agree on what needs to be communicated on physical labels and what information can be digitized and made available online. If you’re interested in learning more about labeling requirements, contact me at [email protected]. SPRAY


i For information on Proposition 65, visit here.

ii For the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act of 2017, visit here.

iii For the Cosmetic Fragrance & Flavor Ingredient Right to Know Act of 2020, visit here.

iv N.J.A.C. 8:59 is available here.

v Worker & Community Right-to-Know Act (1984 Act 159) is available here.

vi Connecticut, Minnesota, New York and Oregon, as well as the District of Columbia

vii link

viii UN GHS, 2019, Document ID 0198; UN Secretariat, 2019, Document ID 0196

ix link