The Perils of Translation Errors in the Chemical Industry

Incorrect translations can be a source of humor in many areas of the consumer marketplace. In the chemical industry, however, these errors can have serious and long-lasting effects on the safety of workers and facilities. Mistakes in chemical labeling or documentation can result in injuries or deaths in the production environment. These errors can also have a major impact on the reputation of companies in the chemical field. Here are some of the most serious consequences of translation errors for modern chemical companies.

[The aftermath of explosions in Tianjin, China, in 2015. A new report described the blasts as a man-made disaster that caused $1.1 billion in damage. Credit Ng Han Guan/Associated Press]

Failure to Protect Workers

Warning labels, hazard signage and other indicators of flammable or otherwise dangerous chemicals and substances are required by law and are necessary to keep staff members safer on the job. Translation errors of these required labels and signs can result in serious injuries to workers who are not adequately warned of the hazards they face in the performance of their regular duties. This can lead to investigations and fines assessed by regulatory authorities and may prompt lawsuits on the part of injured staff members and their families.

Take the Tianjin port disaster in 2015 for example. A series of errors in storage and handling at a Chinese dangerous goods warehouse resulted in a massive explosion that killed 165 people and caused $1.1 billion in damages. The subsequent investigation ended in a recommendation of punishment for over 120 company executives and state officials.

With the stakes so high, can you afford to risk sending a poorly-translated safety data sheet? Is Google Translate going to accurately convey the specific storage and handling needs of your product? What is the potential cost of using a free online translation vs. using a professional translator?

Dangerous Combinations

A mistake in translating a chemical formula or in transcribing laboratory findings can cause a number of negative consequences:

  • Incorrect translations can cause valuable materials and chemicals to be wasted because of mistranslated formulas and instructions.
  • In the laboratory environment, inaccurate translations can make it more difficult to reproduce experiments and can create obstacles to scientific progress.
  • If the mistakes are severe enough, the resulting chemical combinations could prove dangerous or deadly for staff members who follow mistranslated instructions to the letter.

By investing in accurate scientific and chemical translations from a reputable and established firm, modern companies can protect themselves against liability for accidents and can ensure greater productivity and decreased waste in their routine workflows.

Registration Processes

The European Chemicals Agency works on behalf of the European Union to provide oversight for chemical imports and manufacturing activities. The Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulation was enacted in 2006 and requires chemical companies to create registration dossiers on each substance they produce or import in quantities over one metric ton. These requirements present significant challenges to chemical companies operating in the European Union and their affiliates in the U.S. and other countries:

  • Companies that import or produce the same chemical compounds are expected to cooperate with each other in creating accurate descriptions of the properties of these chemicals. Errors in translation could slow the collaborative process for these registration dossiers.
  • Inaccurate information due to translation mistakes could result in regulatory action by the European Chemicals Agency that could prove financially crippling.
  • Inadvertently providing false information to EU officials because of mistranslated chemical descriptions could create barriers for companies entering the international marketplace.


While the U.S. regulatory process is neither as complex nor as demanding as that currently in place in the European Union, mistakes in translating chemical ingredients and compounds could potentially cause serious issues with watchdog agencies on our side of the pond as well.

A relatively small investment in professional scientific translation services can provide the added help your company needs to navigate the challenges of the chemical industry more effectively. By taking this added step to protect staff members and to ensure accurate information for all stakeholders in your company and your products, you can enjoy a greater degree of success in your chosen field and can reduce your potential liability in the consumer and business-to-business marketplace.

GLTaC, Inc. is the world’s leading provider of translation for the environment, health, and safety industry. Our translations appear on over 1,000,000 safety data sheets annually.



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