Jan 21, 2016

ATA 2015: How to Read and Translate Risk and Safety Vernacular Phrases in Technical Texts

ATA 56th Annual Conference Session ST-3
Friday, Nov 06, 10:00am-11:00am

Session summary by 
Noriko Nevins

The purpose of this presentation was to inform translators who translate chemical documentation that there are official set translations that employ established and accepted terminology for internationally standardized Risk and Safety phrases (known as R- and S-phrases) as well as Hazard and Precautionary statements (known as H- and P-statements). And there has been an ongoing effort towards international harmonization with translations available online. Many translators are not aware of this and come up with their own original translations when they actually should use official translations.


The Risk and Safety Phrases were originally developed as a list of commercial chemical substances, and a set of phrases in four languages (DE, FR, IT, NL; the member states at the time) by the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1957. The phrases were intended to be included on packaging to describe risks and safety information regarding chemicals. As the ECSC was absorbed into the EU in 2002, new versions of the R- and S-phrases were created for use on product labels. The phrases are associated with letter-number codes (e.g. R10, S2, etc.) and accompanied by sometimes humorously morbid pictograms. They have been updated over time and now cover 21 categories of substances and ten categories of hazards. The phrases are often found in product labels, shipping manifests, safety data sheets like MSDSs, manufacturing instructions, and relevant legislation and regulations. Dr. Schlecht showed us examples of phrases in different languages including Japanese… and even in Klingon just for fun! For example, the R33 phrase in Japanese “くりかえし蓄積すると危険なもの” could be translated into English literally as “Repeated accumulation is hazardous.” Rather, the actual standardized form is “Danger of cumulative effect.”

Japanese resources: There are no “official” Japanese translations for R- and S-phrases by any government agencies, but translations are available on Wikipedia.

The Hazard and Precautionary statements are part of Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). GHS has been developed by the UN since 1992 with the purpose of harmonizing and superseding the separate systems currently used in the EEC, the Americas, and other regions. The H-statements are intended to replace the R-phrases and the P-statements are intended to replace the S-phrases eventually. The UN has published the list of H- and P-statements in all UN official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish). EU homologated the GHS system into their new Classification, Labeling and Packaging (CLP) regulation and has made it available in 24 EU languages. Government agencies of some UN member countries have published translations in their respective languages.

Japanese resources: A “provisional translation” of the latest version of GHS (v. 5, March 2013) is available on the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry website (the METI link listed in the presentation slides appears to be expired and here’s the current one). The codes are listed in the PDF file of the 附属書.

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About the presenters
Dr. Matthew Schlecht is a chemist and scientific and medical translator who translates into English from German, Japanese, French, and Spanish. (Another presenter, Salvador Virgen, was to present the second half of this session, but unfortunately he could not attend the conference.) 


Presentation slides available here.

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