Free reference card compares NFPA 704 ‘diamond’ and OSHA GHS labels

Published:  07 August, 2013

They may look similar but the numerical rating of severity of hazards are different in each system - opposite in fact.

When OSHA announced last year that it was updating its Hazard Communication Standard to include the adoption of the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, many companies and emergency responders wondered how this would impact on NFPA 704.

NFPA 704, Identification of the Hazards of Materials for Emergency Response, uses a combination of colour coding and numbers to describe a hazard’s severity, and provides a simple, readily recogniSed, and easily understood label to assist those who are responding to an emergency such as a fire or spill.

OSHA’s revised Standard, known as Hazard Communication 2012 or HC2012, is a workplace chemical information system established primarily to provide information and safe work practices for those working with chemicals on a routine basis through the use of labels, Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) and training.

The concern is that the HC2012 standard incorporates a numerical rating system that appears to be similar to NFPA 704 rating system. However, the severity rating on the two standards are inverted.

NFPA 704 uses a numerical of 0-4 with 4 indicating the most severe hazard.   Hazard Communication 2012 uses a numerical rating system for classification of chemicals between 1-4 with a 4 rating indicating the least severe hazard.  The inverse numerical rating between the two systems is primarily what creates the concern.

To address this concern, NFPA has been working with OSHA over the past year to promote awareness of the differences between the two systems. OSHA does not necessarily see a conflict between HCS and NFPA 704. OSHA has indicated that the GHS numbers are not relative ratings of hazards but are used for the purpose of classifying hazards into categories for proper labelling and training information. The numbers for GHS will be placed on the SDS but are not required to be on labels. 

Recently OSHA and NFPA worked together to develop a ‘quick card’ showing the differences between the two systems.

The card can be found on the NFPA Document information page for NFPA 704 here, under “Additional Information”, or you can download it directly here. The card can be downloaded and laminated as a two-sided document that can be used for easy field reference.

  • Operation Florian

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