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NFPA Ratings

NFPA Chemical Hazard Label
The NFPA quadrant system allows workers to quickly identify hazards that might be related to health, flammability, or reactivity, and a number coding system clarifies the severity of the risk.

In the late 19th century, sprinklers were part of factory and homebuilders’ toolkits, but they weren’t standardized, so it was impossible to tell what to expect in case of emergency. The National Fire Protection Association was first conceived in 1895 by a group of insurance companies and underwriters who set out to make buildings safer (and therefore easier to insure). The first sessions of the NFPA were concerned with occupational safety issues that are still contemporary: in 1898, it standardized the engineering behind early fire extinguishers, and in 1899 established best practices for applying fire retardant paint.

The NFPA first started to address transport and storage of explosives in 1911, and by the 1950s, it had put in place a system for labeling potentially dangerous chemicals in an immediately recognizable manner that doesn’t require too much expertise to decipher. Although its system has been through some tweaks since its inception, NFPA Code 704 (as the system is called) has remained largely intact over the years. Since the NFPA is a private organization, local governments are free to incorporate or reject Code 704 as a standard for labeling dangerous chemicals within their bounds (and many do adopt the NFPA’s scheme).

NFPA 704 boils down to one simple format for conveying chemical dangers: a diamond divided into four color-coded quadrants. All but the bottom, white quadrant should have a number from 0 to 4 in it, with 0 denoting a stable substance and 4 indicating extreme hazard.

The blue quadrant reflects health hazards, in a scale from 0 to 4 depending on how toxic or dangerous when exposed, from minor irritation towards death or major injury. Red indicates fire hazard, and communicates whether the material will burn and with what kind of exposure (for instance, whether a material must be heated to burn, or whether it can burn at ambient temperatures), also on a scale from 0 to 4. The yellow quadrant means reactivity, which indicates how susceptible a material is to burning, and just generally the material’s stability.

As an example, a substance with 0 in blue, 3 in red and 0 in reactivity is liable to combust at a temperature between 73° and 100°F – a serious danger if it’s going to be spending any time in a truck in hot weather – butbesides that, it’s stable and doesn’t present a high health hazard.

Finally, the white quadrant is there to indicate specific hazards like acid, radioactivity, reactivity to water and oxidizing chemicals, with each threat getting its own three or four letter code or symbol, with ALK meaning alkaline and ACID meaning, well, itself. This field can also be left blank if no special hazards are present.

 
 
 
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