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What is the HCS (Hazard Communication Standard)?

Posted by Kristi Brekhus on 14th Jan 2020

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) the Hazard Communication Standard requires all employers to use proper signage to indicate hazardous substances and how to use them. A hazardous substance is any substance that can cause a health or physical hazard. This standard is often referred to as the HAZCOM standard or Employee Right-to-Know – 29 CFR 1910.1200. The purpose behind the proper signage comes down to 3 main points:

  • 1.To provide a safe and healthy workplace when handling hazardous chemicals.
  • 2.To train employees to recognize chemical hazards and protect themselves from exposure.
  • 3.To provide a formal mechanism that identifies the chemical hazards in the workplace and the management/engineering controls necessary to protect workers from exposure.

It is the responsibility on the owner of the facility/business to provide the correct signage for each application as well as training for all employees .

Hazard Communication for Chemicals

All hazardous chemicals come with a material safety data sheet (MSDS). While these data sheets contain a lot of information, the symbols tend to be straight forward. Typically, It’s a pictogram or symbol with minimal text. If employees are properly trained to identify these symbols, they have a better chance of being safe in the workplace. The pictograms are required as part of the HCS.

Here are some of the commonly-used symbols you might encounter, and what they mean:

Health Hazard: The health hazard symbol features a silhouette of a human torso with a six-pointed shape on the person’s chest.

  • Carcinogen
  • Mutagenicity
  • Reproductive Toxicity
  • Respiratory Sensitizer
  • Target Organ Toxicity
  • Aspiration Toxicity

Flame: The flame symbol means that a substance presents a possible fire hazard.

  • Flammables
  • Pyrophorics
  • Self-Heating
  • Emits Flammable Gas
  • Self-Reactives
  • Organic Peroxides

Exclamation Mark: An exclamation point suggests urgency, which is why it’s used to label substances that would immediately cause a person harm.

  • Irritant (skin and eye)
  • Skin Sensitizer
  • Acute Toxicity (harmful)
  • Narcotic Effects
  • Respiratory Tract Irritant
  • Hazardous to Ozone Layer (Non-Mandatory

Gas Cylinder: The gas cylinder pictogram is used to label gasses under pressure. A gas is considered under pressure if it is at 29 pounds per square inch or more.

  • Gases Under Pressure

Corrosion: The pictogram symbolizing corrosion shows a substance being poured onto a person’s hand (on the right) and what looks like a metal pipe (on the left).

  • Skin Corrosion/Burns
  • Eye Damage
  • Corrosive to Metals

Exploding Bomb: Explosive materials are labeled with a picture that looks like an exploding bomb. These materials are extremely dangerous.

  • Explosives
  • Self-Reactives
  • Organic Peroxides

Flame Over Circle: Oxidizers are chemical compounds that release oxygen when they react with another substance. Oxidizers are chemicals that facilitate burning or make fires burn hotter and longer.

  • Oxidizers

Environment: This pictogram looks like an upturned fish on the shore next to a tree. This is the only one that is optional, so you may not always see it on a chemical even if it is known to hurt fish or other aquatic life.

  • Aquatic Toxicity

Skull and Crossbones: The skull-and-crossbones is an iconic image that, in this circumstance, means the chemical is poisonous, fatal or toxic.

  • Acute Toxicity (fatal or toxic)

Browse thousands of Specific Hazard communication signs to find exactly what you need.