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GHS Hazard Classifications in Relation to HMIS® III & NFPA 704 Rating Systems

Posted by Briana Smith on Jul 10, 2014 2:30:00 PM
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By: Briana Smith, Social Media & Product Branding Specialist, WAXIE Sanitary Supply


As of December 1st, 2013 all employees exposed to chemicals had to be trained on the new Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) format to be in compliance with OSHA’s new Hazard Communication Standards. Now manufactures & distributors are moving into phase two: reclassifying and updating both labels and chemical Safety Data Sheets (SDS) into the new GHS format by June 1, 2015.

Over the course of the next year, chemical labels & current Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) will begin to look a little different. One of the reasons that GHS was adopted was to improve the understanding of hazards associated with chemicals in a workplace environment and to provide a more uniform & consistent way of communicating these potential hazards.

WAXIE is committed to keeping our customers informed & educated on all of the continuing changes in relation to the transition to GHS. Part of this will be an ongoing series of blog articles in which we’ll break down some of the major changes between the current versions and the new GHS formatted versions into “bite-size” pieces.

To view a timeline of GHS Compliance: http://info.waxie.com/events/events/ghs



GHS Hazard Classifications in Relation to HMIS® III & NFPA 704 Rating Systems

OSHA Hazard Communication: Understanding GHS - Part I

Safety is of utmost important in the workplace and identifying how hazardous a chemical is can be very confusing, especially with the rollout of various elements for the GHS Standard.

Currently, many manufacturers and distributors list the HMIS III & NFPA 704 rating systems on packaging and MSDS. Many people are currently familiar with these two systems and they are often used as a reference when determining how hazardous a particular chemical is. Technically these systems have never been required by OSHA’s Hazardous Communication Standards (past or present), but they were frequently voluntarily included as additional information that was “nice to know”.

One of the changes that elicit the most concern in regards to the new GHS Standard is the role, or lack thereof of both the HMIS III and NFPA 704 rating systems. For those who are unfamiliar with these rating systems here’s a brief explanation of each system.

Are You Taking the Necessary Steps to be GHS Compliant?


HMIS III (Hazardous Materials Identification System) is a rating system developed by the American Coatings Association, which categorizes a chemical from 0 (low hazard) to 4 (high hazard). Four areas are categorized based on health, flammability and physical hazards, as well as personal protection. They are sometimes color-coded for quick reference: blue for health hazard, red for flammability, orange for physical hazard, and white for personal protection.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is a U.S. trade association, established in 1896, whose mission, according to their website, is “to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, training and education.” They have several standards, but the one used in regards to chemical hazards is NFPA 704: Standard System for the Identification of the Hazards of Materials for Emergency Response.

NFPA 704 is similar to the HMIS III rating system, as it categorizes hazards from 0 (no hazard) to 4 (severe risk), but there are a few differences. Hazard categories are color-coded: red for flammability, blue for health hazard, yellow for chemical reactivity, and white for special hazard codes (such as an oxidizer OX or a product that reacts with water W ). Two of the hazard categories are the same as the ones HMIS III rating, but in a slightly different order. The NFPA 704 rating also includes the “fire diamond” used frequently by emergency personnel to quickly identify hazardous material risks.

Oftentimes the HMIS III & NFPA 704 rating systems are used in conjunction and can be found on product labels, secondary labels and MSDS, but this will be changing with the new GHS Standard.

 It's easy to get confused by different hazard classification systems.


The key behind the adoption of the GHS Standard is to establish a uniform approach in communicating the potential hazards of a chemical, and it starts out with the Safety Data Sheet (SDS). The SDS is a comprehensive information guide about a chemical broken down into 16 required sections. The second section covers ‘Hazards Identification’.

Under GHS, hazards are organized into three main hazard classifications: physical, health & environmental hazards. After which they are then sub-divided into different classes & categories based on specific criteria, established by OSHA in the GHS Document.

GHS hazard classifications and categories are NOT similar to or based off of the HMIS III & NFPA 704 rating systems, and are used in a different manner than these more familiar hazard rating systems.

GHS categories are configured along the lines of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) shipping & transportation classifications for hazardous materials. These are also organized into a category rating of 1 (most dangerous) to 5 (least dangerous), which is opposite of the familiar HMIS & NFPA 704 rating systems. Also of note, not every class has 5 categories; Flammable Solids, under Physical Hazards, is only broken up into 2 categories. Plus these hazard categories are used differently in GHS than the familiar HMIS III & NFPA 704 rating systems.

The purpose of the GHS hazard categories is to be able to determine what hazard pictograms, signal word, hazard statements and precautionary statements need to be used on a label. Once a category & sub-category is identified, the applicable hazard identification statements are looked up in the GHS Document. This information is what will be found in both section 2 of the SDS and will include 4 of the 6 elements required for GHS compliant labeling of chemicals.


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As GHS is an international standard that already has an established hazard identification and classification system. HMIS III & NFPA 704 rating systems are both American systems, and therefore do NOT fall under GHS requirements. There has been a lot of debate in the industry as to whether of not to continue to include HMIS III & NFPA 704 information on packaging, SDS, etc. On the one hand, many people are used to looking for them, but eventually people will become accustomed to the new GHS hazard classifications.

Ultimately every manufacturer & distributor will need to decide whether or not to continue to reference HMIS III & NFPA 704 on packaging & hazard communication materials. One of the most common approaches is to leave them off the packaging, but to continue to include that information under section 16 of the SDS under ‘other information including information on preparation and revision of the SDS’.

Have any questions about SDS or GHS compliance? Let us know in the comments below.


OSHA’s Guide to GHS
OSHA - Hazard Communication
American Coatings Assiciation - HMIS III
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
NFPA 704 Standard


Topics: workplace safety, GHS

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