What does HMIS stand for?

HMIS stands for Hazardous Materials Identification System. It was created by the American Coatings Association (ACA) to help companies comply with OSHA’s chemical/hazardous materials labeling standards in the workplace.

The HMIS standard provides an easy to read format that quickly imparts information, which is why it is so useful in areas where workers are exposed to potentially harmful chemicals. Each bar on the label has a different color and corresponding number that correlates with varying dangers and the repercussions.

Blue indicates a Health Hazard; the ratings are as follows:

            4 – Severe Health Hazard. The chemical described includes dangers such as carcinogens, reproductive toxins, and respiratory sensitizers. These may cause permanent damage, irreversible injury, or death from a single or repeated exposure and/or brief contact.

            3 – Serious Health Hazard. This includes chemicals that potentially have carcinogens, corrosive or severe irritant properties to the skin and eyes. These chemicals will cause severe injury.

            2 – Moderate Health Hazard. When exposed for long periods of time these chemicals will cause temporary incapacitation including intoxication, nausea, headache, dizziness, weakness, or fatigue. They can also cause moderate irritation and increased sensitivity to the eyes and skin. It may cause irreversible eye damage.

            1 – Slight Health Hazard. Damage to the eyes and skin are reversible within seven days. These chemicals may cause stomach irritation and worsen existing dermatitis.

            0 – Minimal Health Hazard. There is little or no risk with these chemicals. It includes chemicals that are not irritating to the eyes and skin.

Red indicates the Flammability of the substance; the ratings are as follows:

            4 – Severe Flammability Hazard. These chemicals include flammable gases and compressed extremely volatile liquids that will vaporize almost instantly when at normal temperatures and atmospheric pressures. They ignite at flash points below 73 °F (23 °C) and boil at temperatures below 100 °F (38 °C). They can also suddenly ignite in the presence of air or other substances.

            3 – Serious Flammability Hazard. These liquid and solid chemicals can be ignited at almost any temperature. This includes flammable liquids with flash points of 73 °F (23 °C) and boiling points above 100 °F (38 °C), as well as liquids with flash points in-between those temperatures.

            2 – Moderate Flammable Hazard. These chemicals must be somewhat exposed to high temperatures before ignition will occur. A flash point at or above 100 °F (38 °C) but below 200 °F (93 °C) is needed to start ignition. These chemicals do not pose a threat usually when at normal temps. However, if heated, vapors emitted may cause injury.

            1 – Slight Flammability Hazard. These chemicals (solid, liquid, gas, or semi-solids) need significant pre-heating to ignite. They must be exposed to 1,500 ºF for five minutes or less to do so. Flash points are at or above 200 ºF.

            0 – Minimal Flammability Hazard. These chemicals will not burn even when exposed to temperatures of 1,500 ºF for 5 minutes.

Orange (Yellow for older versions of this label) represents a Physical Hazard:

            4 – Severe Reactivity Hazard. These chemicals easily explode/detonate at normal pressures and temperatures. These include substances that are sensitive to localized and mechanical shock.

            3 – Serious Reactivity Hazard. These substances can detonate but they require heat under pressure or a strong initiator. It includes chemicals that react with contact to water without heat or confinement as well as ones that are sensitive to thermal or mechanical shock.

            2 – Moderate Reactivity Hazard. This is categorized by chemicals that are unstable and violently change when exposed to other chemicals but do not detonate.

            1 – Slight Reactivity Hazard. These chemicals can react when put under high pressure or high temperatures, but the reaction is not violent.

            0 – Minimal Reactivity Hazard. These are not reactive with water and are stable under pressure and heat.

White indicates the required PPE when handling the material.

              – 29 CFR 1910.132 states that employers must assess the workplace to determine what kinds of PPE are required depending on the presence of hazards, whether they be chemical or mechanical.

              – This chart is required to be displayed at every workplace involving hazardous chemicals for employee reference.

HMIS PPE ratings

What’s the Difference Between HMIS and NFPA?

The NFPA labels and the HMIS labels are very similar in looks because they have the same colors as well as a similar meaning for each section. However, there are quite a few differences in these two labeling systems besides one being a diamond and the other in bar form.

Who is the target audience?

  • NFPA labels relate to emergency response personnel. For example, the people who work in fire emergencies, medical emergencies, and natural disaster emergencies.
  • HMIS labels are intended to be used by employees who work in hazardous conditions.

Differences in health hazard communications:

  • NFPA only covers acute health hazards
  • HMIS covers both chronic and acute health hazards

The white section:

  • NFPA uses this for specific hazards that don’t fall into the other categories
  • HMIS uses this section for PPE requirements

Which One Do I Use?

Using the HMIS system created by the ACA is not required by OSHA’s HCS specifications because it can be easily replaced by OSHA’s new GHS standard labels that were updated in 2015 as they provide more detailed information on the chemical in question. However, HMIS is required to stay updated with the HCS standards for legal safety reasons.

As was mentioned in the section previously, when to use these is determined by what kind of environment you are in. NFPA labels are usually used for emergency response teams in the event of a disaster while HMIS is used for employees in the workplace. HMIS labels are easily bought pre-made or printed in-house with a thermal label printer at the convenience of the company to ensure that their employees stay safe on the job.


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