How To Read an HMIS Label Like an Expert

How To Read an HMIS Label Like an Expert

The Hazardous Materials Identification System identifies chemical hazards and how to handle them using a color bar label. The National Paint Coatings Association (now known as the American Coatings Association) developed this hazard rating system. Although it may seem confusing when initially looking at the labels, understanding the components makes them easier to read. Here’s everything you need to know about reading an HMIS label.

An HMIS Label Uses Numerical Classifications To Identify Hazards

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration uses the HMIS system for both public and worker identification of chemical hazards and safety threats. There are specific labeling requirements for a variety of hazardous materials, so you will see HMIS labels on a number of items in transit. These labels can be either a placard or a sticker. They may appear on individual units like drums, barrels or bottles, or they could identify an entire shipping container or box.

Each label has a unique appearance depending on the age of the label and the ratings of the hazardous material. All labels feature four colored and clearly labeled rectangular stripes. The stickers show the hazard type and the level of danger using a number.

Numeric Classifications

An HMIS label relies on a numeric classification system to indicate levels of danger. There is an ascending progression, with the lowest danger level starting at zero and the highest danger level using the number four.

OSHA advises companies to avoid mixing numerical classification systems when one system uses ascending progression and the other relies on descending order. This can cause confusion as the numbers seem to contradict one another.

Comparison With the NFPA Fire Diamond

The HMIS system may look similar to the 704 identification system used by the National Fire Protection Association, but these labels have different purposes. The NFPA uses the Safety Square or Fire Diamond to guide emergency personnel and firefighters on the flammability of hazardous materials and the type of safety equipment necessary when working with the material. The HMIS system complies with the labeling standards of OSHA.

HMIS Labeling Has 5 Common Features

A standard label will contain the following elements:

  1. The name of the hazardous material
  2. Blue stripe labeled “HEALTH” and marked with two squares
  3. Red stripe marked with one square to indicate flammability
  4. Orange stripe marked with one square indicating physical hazard
  5. White stripe indicating personal protection elements

A label could include more fields for listing additional information, such as the manufacturer of the hazardous material. Within each of these categories, you may get other information about the hazard and the way to handle it through another code.

The Blue Stripe: Health Hazards

The top blue stripe features two squares, with one showing the hazard level and the other distinguishing between chronic or acute-only health hazards. There are five hazard levels, ranging from no significant health risk to the potential for life-threatening or permanent damage from exposure:

  • 4: Severe
  • 3: Serious
  • 2: Moderate
  • 1: Slight
  • 0: Minimal

If the second square has an asterisk symbol, it identifies the material as a chronic health hazard.

The Red Stripe: Flammability

There are five flammability levels indicated by the yellow strip on the HMIS label. The numeric hazard levels start with zero, indicating no fire hazard. It moves to one for slight hazard, two for moderate, three for serious and four for severe fire hazard.

The Orange Stripe: Physical Reactivity Hazards

The third stripe in HMIS labeling shows how the potential for a reaction with the material. OSHA defines seven reactivity hazards:

  1. Compressed gases
  2. Organic peroxides
  3. Explosives
  4. Oxidizers
  5. Water reactives
  6. Unstable reactives
  7. Pyrophoric materials

The label uses a category of zero to four to identify the physical hazard present. These move from no physical hazard at zero up through slight, moderate, serious, and finally severe physical hazard, at number four.

The White Stripe: Personal Protective Equipment

OSHA sets the standards for the personal protective equipment needed to help minimize a person’s exposure to injury or illness-causing hazards. The fourth stripe on an HMIS label shows which type of PPE is necessary for safely working with or handling the material. Instead of numbers, the labels use a letter code to show the combinations of PPE. Site-specific codes are indicated with letters L to Z.

Basic safety starts with “A,” requiring only safety glasses for handling. Protective gloves and a protective apron are added for “B” and “C.” At the “D” level, the material requires a face shield, gloves and an apron. Further levels call for additional equipment like a dust or vapor respirator and splash goggles. Level “K” requires a hazmat suit, gloves, hazmat boots and an airline respirator mask or hood.

Outdated HMIS Labels May Still Be in Use

Depending on the products or materials, you may come across a label that looks like it’s part of the HMIS system but has slight variations. The first version of HMIS labeling was released under the NPCA brand before the name and brand changed to the ACA.

There are two prior versions of the labels termed HMIS I and II. Under these systems, a yellow stripe represented a Reactivity hazard with levels rating from zero to four. Under the current system, an orange stripe replaces the yellow one and labels that danger as a physical hazard. The change was intended to distinguish the HMIS system from the Fire Diamond and to better comply with OSHA’s definitions of physical hazards.

Another change from the HMIS I and II systems is the definition of hazard levels under Flammability. While the older system used numeric ratings identical to the system established for the Fire Diamond’s red section, the revised system is current with the definitions set by OSHA’s standards.

Use an HMIS Label and Other Signage To Put Safety First

Proper use of an HMIS label is only one of the many things you should do to promote employee safety in your work environment. Posting appropriate signage is also important. Turn to ComplianceSigns, LLC for a wide range of safety notices and other markers. Order your safety signs today.