NFPA Hazard Classifications Defined

Have you ever glanced at the multi-colored fire diamond and wondered, what does that mean? Although visually comparable to a Rubik’s Cube, the sign isn’t that difficult to interpret. The NFPA Hazmat Diamond, or NFPA Hazard Classification is a classification method used by businesses with access to hazardous chemicals. These facilities may either use or store these chemicals in-house. Every business must have this sign in sight in order for first responders to identify how dangerous each chemical is in case of an emergency. The classification is broken into four categories: health, fire, specific hazard, and reactivity. This universal system of classification alerts others of the potential dangers ahead and how to treat them.     

What Do the Colors Mean?

Each section in the NFPA Hazard Classification is represented by a different color and classification. The arrangements are as follows:

Red: Flammable

Blue:  Health Hazard

Yellow: Chemical Reactivity

White: Miscellaneous Hazards

In order to appropriately identify these hazards, each of the four labels in the NFPA Hazard classification contains listed materials from 0 to four. Zero being no hazard to four being a “severe risk.” For example, flammability has rankings from zero to four that represent specific burning temperatures, combustible limits, and ignition information.  Zero typically refers to items that will not burn immediately like stone, sand, and concrete. Four represents materials such as acetylene, propane, and hydrogen gases that will burn even under normalized conditions. This information is useful for those in and out of the facility to understand so as to operate safely.

Blue refers to the overall health of an individual exposed. If one is exposed to simple materials such as paper, their health wouldn’t be at risk. However, substances such as acetone or potassium chloride might cause slight injury or reaction if a person is exposed to it incorrectly. Toxins ranked at a level four include cyanide, hydrofluoric acid, and other poisonous chemicals that could potentially cause death to inappropriate exposure. It is imperative that chemicals like these are labeled correctly to avoid liability.

Yellow labels note materials that are reactive and could cause an explosion when mixed or handled incorrectly. Helium, for example, is ranked lowest because it remains intact even when flames or water are present. Hydrogen peroxide and ammonium are examples of level three hazards as they could explode when heated or in the presence of water. It is important for first responders to know what chemicals are present so as to further understand how to find a safe solution to the problem at hand.

White codings are divided into three letter categories that are drastically different from the numerical counterparts. The first category is OX which stands for the oxidizer. Chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide and ammonium nitrate are able to burn without the presence of air. The next classification is a crossed-out W which refers to items that react when mixed with water. Sodium, for example, is among the chemicals listed as having a reaction. Finally, SA stands for simple asphyxiant gas. Chemicals like nitrogen and neon can be vaporized and used with dry ice.

Who Benefits from the NFPA Hazard Classification List

Industrial warehouses and businesses with access to potentially dangerous chemicals need to have a certified NFPA Hazard Classification List posted in their area of business. Since the process behind classifying your inventory may be challenging, consider hiring a code consultant to classify your in-house chemicals and implement a fire code compliance report. A classification professional will assess your chemicals and rate their hazard levels. He or she will then create a personalized plan of action to ensure your facility is abiding by the appropriate regulations.

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