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HMIS® III - Questions About HMIS® and NFPA®

Frequently Asked Questions


Questions About HMIS® and NFPA®


Q: What is the difference between HMIS® and NFPA®?

A: At first glance HMIS® and NFPA® look similar, but there are some important differences.

HMIS® is a complete system designed to aid employers and their employees in day-to-day compliance with OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard. It includes hazard evaluations; a rating system for acute and chronic health, flammability and physical hazards; labels providing at-a-glance information on the hazards and PPE; employee training; and a written compliance program. HMIS® was developed by the ACA.

NFPA® is a fire protection hazard warning system designed to provide rapid, clear information to emergency responders on materials under conditions of fire, chemical spill, or other emergency situations. This labeling system was developed by the NFPA®. Like HMIS®, it includes labels and a numerical rating system, but the basic purpose of the label information is different. See Appendix A of this manual for more information.

Q: Are numerical hazard ratings for different systems, such as NFPA® and HMIS® interchangeable?

A: NO. The ratings in the Health and Flammability categories are different because the defining criteria are not the same and because HMIS® must be concerned with chronic as well as acute health hazards. Additionally, NFPA® neither rates nor provides rating criteria for Physical Hazard.

Numerical ratings from other rating systems should not be substituted for HMIS® ratings; the criteria for different systems (often developed for different purposes) can vary significantly. Rating substitution can cause confusion. Always use the correct rating system for the intended purpose and be sure to identify which system is in use.

Q: I use HMIS® labels at my facility. Should I use NFPA®, too?

A: Only you can determine which system or combination of systems is most appropriate for your facility's needs. Use the following information to help you decide.

HMIS® is intended to be used by employers and workers on a daily basis and provides information on acute and chronic health hazards, flammability, physical hazard, and personal protective equipment. The system helps employers comply with OSHA's Hazard communication standard.

The emphasis of HMIS® on personal protective equipment and hazard communication make it the better choice for keeping employees informed about every day workplace hazards and how they can minimize exposure.

NFPA® label information is intended for use by emergency response personnel (fire fighters, hazardous materials workers, police, etc.) under emergency conditions. Labels contain information on acute health hazards, flammability, physical hazard and special characteristics that might require special fire fighting techniques, such as reactivity with water.

Facilities that store or use materials that require special handling under emergency situations find the NFPA® system useful. The additional information on special characteristics is particularly useful during a spill or fire.

Q: How can I tell HMIS® and NFPA® labels apart?

A: HMIS® labels always appear as a rectangular label containing a grouping of three horizontal colored bars with a blue "health" bar on top, a red "flammability" below that, followed by a orange "physical hazard" bar and a white "PPE" bar. There may be additional space on the label for other information, such as the product name, supplemental warnings, manufacturer information, or additional HMIS® information.

NFPA® labels always appear as a diamond-shaped block made up of blue, red, yellow and white diamonds for health, flammability, instability, and special hazards (e.g., water reactive), respectively. There may be additional space on the label for other information.

Q: How do I know if the rating I received for a product is an HMIS® rating?

A: An HMIS® rating should always be contained in an HMIS® label, or should be designated by the letters HMIS® nearby. If you receive a rating that does not indicate the system used (HMIS®, NFPA®, etc), you should contact the source of the rating and ask whether it is an HMIS® rating.


Important Note: HMIS® health hazard ratings are not interchangeable with NFPA® or other health hazard ratings.


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