Companies that work with hazardous materials are accustomed to seeing the “Fire Diamond” that is used to quickly identify risks associated with hazardous material. This four section diamond helps emergency personnel determine any hazardous materials involved in an emergency incident. It also identifies if any special equipment may be needed or if there are special procedures that should be taken during an emergency response.

nfpa 704 fire diamondIn the early 1960’s, the US-based National Fire Protection Association adopted the NFPA 704: Standard System for the Identification of the Hazards of Materials for Emergency Response to provide a standard system for identifying hazardous materials. The NFPA 704 utilized the Fire Diamond to provide information on Health (Blue), Flammability (Red), Instability (Yellow), and Special Hazards (White).

In addition to the NFPA 704, there are many regulation standards pertaining to hazard classifications around the world. Though they may all have similarities as to how they identify and classify hazardous materials, the potential impact of hazardous material accidents affecting different countries involved in chemical trading necessitates the establishment of a uniform controlling standard observed by the international community.

The United States is a leading importer and exporter of chemicals, and U.S. workers see many different hazardous material labels from many different countries. With the diversity of symbols and markings as well as varying international requirements, these hazardous material markings can be difficult to identify, leading to possible mishandling of hazardous material.

This need to establish a uniform standard observed internationally has led to OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) adopting new hazardous chemical labeling requirements to improve the safety and health of workers in the US. This new standard is the UN’s Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals.

OSHA Hazard Pictograms

This system will replace the fire diamond of the NFPA 704 with the Hazard Communication Standard Pictogram included on the OSHA’s new hazard chemical labeling requirements. The new pictograms are a bright red bordered diamond with white background and a symbol representing a distinct hazard in its center.

osha quick card

3 Changes to OSHA Hazard Signs

  • Hazard Label Format Change – Instead of the previous color segmented diamond identifying the hazards, the new label includes the following information:
    1. Name, Address and Telephone Number
    2. Product Identifier
    3. Signal Word
    4. Hazard Statement(s)
    5. Precautionary Statement(s)
    6. Pictogram(s
      To learn more about the specific segments expected to be supplied on the labels, refer to page 2 of Hazard Communication Standard: Labels and Pictograms under section called Label Elements
  • Hazard Rating is Reversed – In the NFPA 704 classification, a rating of 4 was the most hazardous and 0 the least. With the new rating system, a 1 is the most severe and a 4 the least severe. These numbers are not always listed on the labels, but are required to be on the accompanying Safety Data Sheet in section 2.
  • Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) vs Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs)– Following the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), OSHA has removed the word “Material” from the title and now referred to this as Safety Data Sheets (SDS). The SDS will contain the following 16 sections:
    1. Identification
    2. Hazard(s) identification
    3. Composition/ information on ingredients
    4. First-aid measures Fire-fighting measures
    5. Fire-fighting measures
    6. Accidental release measures
    7. Handling and storage
    8. Exposure control/ personal protection
    9. Physical and chemical properties
    10. Stability and reactivity
    11. Toxicological information
    12. Ecological information
    13. Disposal considerations
    14. Transport information
    15. Regulatory information
    16. Other information

Important Dates to Remember Though many countries have different dates for domestic implementation of this new standard, U.S. companies are expected to meet specific deadlines. Product manufacturers will be required to adopt the standard by June 1, 2015. Though distributors may ship products labeled by manufacturers under the old system until December 1, 2015, product distributors must adopt the standard by this date. Some countries have already implemented the change as early as 2013 and therefore OSHA requires that U.S. employers train employees by December 1, 2015. All labeling and hazard communications must be converted by June 1, 2016.

Examples of how to set up cards –
Comparison of NFPA 704 and HazCom 2012 Labels

osha quick cards hazard pictograms


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