“What is hazmat?” A simple question with a simple answer (well, sort of).
Sure many of you are aware that hazmat is short-hand for “hazardous material(s)” but how exactly is that defined and what are the implications to those who encounter such substances?
Hazmat is an abbreviated term that represents a category of products considered “dangerous goods.” That means an item (in solid, liquid, or gas form) poses a threat to a person or the environment that is exposed to it. Because of this inherent health risk, these types of products are subject to regulations.
This relates to our site in that you will often find an item that is deemed hazmat. And if this is the case, the item is accompanied by a Material Safety Data Sheet, or MSDS .
Like an MSDS, the regulations involved in classifying and identifying what is hazmat is determined by an organization or government (basically some authority on the subject). Thus, one country has one system while another country has another. Up until recently there was no universal code. However, now it would appear that is changing both in terms of MSDS and hazmat code.
In the United States, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is responsible for publically disseminating safety in regards to hazmat. This organization has devised NFPA 704, a standard that “presents a simple, readily recognized, and easily understood system of markings (commonly referred to as the “NFPA hazard diamond”) that provides an immediate general sense of the hazards of a material and the severity of these hazards as they relate to emergency response.”
Recently OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration via the U.S. Department of Labor) has joined forces with the NFPA so that labeling items as hazmat is at least a little less of a headache in years past. This is due in part because of what is called the Global Harmonization Initiative (aka GHI), an effort by the global scientific community to reach a consensus on how best to facilitate the transfer of information as it relates to safety regulations.
I found this clip that has a representative from the NFPA explaining the GHI:
For a nice side-by-side comparison and quick reference of the content contained in the above clip, you can view this NFPA/OSHA Quick Card.
So beyond safety how does the hazmat label affect customers? Two words: Shipping and costs (that’s actually three, but whatever). If you land on a product page that contains the NFPA diamond , you will notice the word “Details.” Clicking that word will produce a pop-up message explaining that a fee is incurred with most items considered hazmat (See Figure 1). As we explain, things that can go ‘boom’ are dangerous to transport and that risk unfortunately comes at a price…
It’s understandable that individuals are uneasy whenever they see a hazmat symbol. That type of reaction is actually the desired result. A person dealing with dangerous goods should be on guard and handle with care. The hazmat symbol will alert you to this fact and is a visual cue to tread carefully.
*A special thanks to Michael Beeks at Brulin
for making us aware of the Global Harmonization Initiative.