On the Differences between the NFPA and HMIS/HMIG
Hazard Labeling Systems
NFPA Hazard Identification System
Hazardous Material Identification Guide (HMIG
or HMIS) may be used to comply with the labeling requirement of the
Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). These systems,
although similar, differ in some important respects.
- Both systems have three color-coded fields to indicate the flammability
(red), health (blue), and reactivity (yellow) hazards associated with the
- Both use a system of five numbers, ranging from 0 to 4, to indicate the
severity of hazard, with 0 being the least and 4 being the most
- They differ in layout -- NFPA uses four diamonds, HMIG uses
vertically stacked bars.
- The differ in interpretation of the fourth, white
field (special handling in the NFPA system; protective equipment in the
- Possibly the most significant difference, however, has
to do with the intended audience for each of the systems. The HMIG (or
HMIS) was devised as an HCS compliance tool, and has employees who must
handle hazardous chemicals in the workplace as the intended audience.
The NFPA system was designed to alert fire fighters arriving on the
scene of a fire to the hazards associated with materials present at
that location. Therefore, the numbers assigned in the NFPA system
assume that a fire is present. No such assumption holds in the
HMIG/HMIS system. For this reason, the numbers that are assigned to the
flammability, health, and reactivity hazards may differ between the
NFPA and HMIG systems, even for the exact same chemical. And note that
this applies to the true NFPA labeling system, not necessarily the
hybrid, in-house system we use in the general labs at the University of Oregon.