What to Know About NFPA 704 Signs

Our NFPA 704 Signs Compliance – Resource Bulletin will help you understand some of the rules and regulations related to this voluntary standard for hazardous materials.

Topics include:

  • Hazard severity level
  • The special hazard category
  • Non-standard symbols
  • Determining hazard ratings
  • Composite rating method
  • Sign location
  • Links to relevant regulations

Click the image to open this bulletin as a pdf file.

Bulletin Overview

NFPA 704 is a standard maintained by the US-based National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). It defines a graphic system primarily used by emergency personnel to quickly identify the risks posed by the presence of hazardous materials in a certain area. Known as the NFPA “diamond,” the four section multicolor diamond shape indicates the health, flammability, instability and related hazards that are presented by short-term, acute exposure to a material during a fire, spill or other emergency-related condition. This is necessary to help emergency personnel determine what, if any, special equipment should be used, procedures followed, or precautions taken during the first moments of an emergency response.

The objectives of the system are:

  • To provide an appropriate signal or alert for the protection of both public and private emergency response personnel.
  • To assist in planning for effective fire and emergency control operations, including clean-up.
  • To assist all designated personnel, engineers, plant, and safety personnel in evaluating hazards.

The 704 rating system is applicable to industrial, commercial, and institutional facilities that manufacture, process, use, or store hazardous materials. It is important to note that the standard is not applicable to transportation or for use by the general public. This is a relevant matter, because the NFPA 704 system is often confused with the placarding required by the Department of Transportation for hazardous materials. The standard is also not applicable to chronic exposures or to non-emergency occupational exposure.

NFPA 704 is a voluntary standard; each local jurisdiction determines whether or not it will be maintained as a requirement.