HMIS is the acronym for Hazardous Materials Identification System. The HMIS was created by the American Coatings Association to help convey the risks for possible hazards. The HMIS works as an aid to help clearly identify hazards based on OHSA’s safety guidelines. The HMIS is very similar in nature to the fire diamond that was created by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), however, instead of using a diamond shape the HMIS utilizes a vertical bar shape and is a bit different in color scheme and meanings. There are four colors used on the HMIS bar, they are blue, red, orange, and white and each color identifies a different hazard. Furthermore, each color is paired with a numerical value which corresponds to the intensity of the risk; numbers zero through four are used for this purpose. Let’s break down the set color code for better understanding.

Decoding the Colors

The HMIS utilizes four shades in its color code, in order to fully understand the risk associated with each color, we must first understand what each color stands for.

  • Blue: The color blue on the HMIS bar indicates a health hazard. Essentially, this means that if there is exposure to the material or substance it will potentially put one at risk for a health issue. If the pairing numerical number is 0 there is not a health risk, if the number is 4 then life-threatening, permanent illnesses could result from exposure.
  • Red: Red indicates flammability. The numerical value between 0 and 4 indicates how flammable the material or substance can be. A 0 indicates that there is no risk of flammability as the material or substance will not burn. However, as the risk number rises from 1 to 4 the flash point decreases. A  number 4 means that there are very volatile flammable liquids with flashpoints below 73 degrees Fahrenheit present, and that the materials may even spontaneously ignite with just the air.
  • Orange: The color orange stands for physical hazard or reactivity. There are seven hazard classes identified by OSHA and they are as follows: organic peroxides, explosives, compressed gasses, water reactives, polyrophoric materials, oxidizers, and unstable reactives. When dealing with reactive substances, it could be any one of these listed substances that could be present. A 0 rating means that the materials or substances are fairly stable and will most likely not react with things such as water. However, as the numbers climb upwards the reactivity increases and a 4 indicates a reactive material that is capable of exploding with water or may just simple self-react at room temperature.
  • White: The last color of white indicates personal protection. A person or employee should look at the white to understand what level of personal protective equipment (PPE) should be used in order to ensure safety when working with such hazards. Starting with a 0, there is a minimal need for PPE and that increases to slight hazard, moderate hazard, serious hazard and a 4 would be a severe hazard. The use of PPE should be implemented accordingly based upon the level of risk or hazard.

HMIS Helps to Protect

The HMIS is a helpful source for supplying pertinent information regarding potential hazards. It is important to keep in mind that the HMIS is not the same as the NFPA’s Diamond. Even though there are some similarities between both visual hazard awareness guides, they do pose unique differences that should not be overlooked. When working around hazardous materials, always take the time to educate yourself on the potential hazards and how to stay safe while working with them. Tools such as the HMIS are there to help create safer and more efficient work environments for all.

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