Each hazchem sign in Australia is required to adhere to specific requirements as laid out by OHS laws. These regulations dictate:
- The size and design of hazchem signs
- Where these signs need to be installed in your business
- The icons and graphics it needs to use
Most importantly, the regs also mandate the information a haz sign needs to communicate.
One particularly important piece of information that hazchem signs and emergency information panels need to display prominently is the substance’s hazchem code.
If you deal with hazardous chemicals on a regular basis, then you’re probably already familiar with hazchem codes and their meanings.
If you aren’t however, this is the article for you!
What is a hazchem code, and why does it matter?
Each hazchem sign or emergency information panel needs to include a range of mandatory features:
- Class diamonds
that identify the hazard present
- An internationally-recognised UN Number that identifies the substance
- The substance name (commonly called the ‘Proper Shipping Name’)
- Emergency contacts and specialist advice lines
- And of course, a hazchem code
Today, it’s the last one we’ll be focusing on.
Essentially, hazchem codes are standardised codes that tell you critical information you need to know about the hazardous substance you’re transporting, from the hazard presented to the proper storage and emergency response procedures.
Essentially, this code doesn’t identify the contents (that’s what the UN number is for) but rather the basic method of dealing with an accident.
And since it’s an alphanumeric code, it transcends the language barrier, ensuring hazards are easily understood anywhere hazchem is recognised.
These codes are used internationally, and are the standard throughout the Commonwealth.
What about the rest of the world?
If you ship internationally, you’ll need to consider that other parts of the world use their own systems for hazardous chemicals. While the GHS and UN numbers ensure some commonality, they’re still fundamentally different systems from hazchem.
And thus, they need custom signs.
In particular, North America and the EU have their own classification schemes with their own unique codes.
- The US: NFPA 704 (National Fire Protection Association)
- Europe: ADR (Accord européen relatif au transport international des marchandises Dangereuses par Route)
While we unfortunately don’t have time to discuss these systems today, if you ship to North America or Europe, Signsmart is more than happy to research and include relevant codes on a custom hazchem sign if requested!
Understanding hazchem codes
Okay, so we’ve covered the role and importance of hazchem codes. Now to the most important part: understanding how they work.
Hazchem codes uniformly take either a 2- or 3-digit form, with each character saying something specific about the substance you’re transporting.
Here’s how it works…
Part 1) the number (fire suppression)
When it comes to fire hazards, it isn’t as simple as “flammable or not” – certain types of fires need to be put out a specific way, lest you accidentally increase your risk.
For example, there’s a very good reason you don’t use water to fight electrical fires – water is a conductor, after all!
The same applies to hazardous chemicals
The first digit in a hazchem code is a number that dictates the type of suppressant agent that should be used to extinguish a fire:
- 1 – water jets
- 2 – water fog or spray
- 3 – foam
- 4 – dry agents (water cannot be used at all)
Part 2) the first letter (safety parameters)
Buckle up, because this is going to be a long one!
Each hazchem code contains at least one of the letters P, R, S, T, W, X, Y and Z.
The purpose of this letter is to tell workers what sort of safety precautions need to be taken by identifying the volatility of the chemical and mandatory PPE and disposal procedures.
|S||Yes||Breathing apparatus & gloves||Dilute|
|T||Breathing apparatus & gloves||Dilute|
|Y||Yes||Breathing apparatus & gloves||Contain|
|Z||Breathing apparatus & gloves||Contain|
- Violence – the likelihood to spontaneously combust, ignite, explode etc
- Full PPE includes breathing apparatus
- Contain – spillage must be prevented from entering drains
- Dilute – safe to water down and dispose of spills in the drain
On some older hazchem signs and EIPs, you might see the letters S, T, Y and Z set on a black background, like this. This signified that while the substance required breathing equipment and gloves in the event of a fire, ordinary handling was safe to perform without PPE.
Since 2010 however, the Dangerous Goods Code was revised, making breathing apparatus mandatory for these chemicals, regardless of whether there’s a fire.
If you want to minimise your risk and avoid a fine, we suggest following the new guidelines, even if an older hazchem sign or EIP says that it’s safe to forgo PPE!
Part 3) the final letter
You may notice that some substances however will feature a third letter as part of the hazchem code.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to memorise an entire table this time – it’s just the letter E for “evacuate”!
This letter tells you whether or not you need to evacuate the premises in the event of a spill, simple as that. That’s why some hazchem codes will be 2 digits, while others will be 3 digits long.
Putting it all together
Let’s start by looking at one of the most common hazchem codes: 3YE.
3 – the number 3 signifies that any fires related to this substance need to be extinguished using foam.
Y – the letter Y tells us that this substance…
- Is volatile, and has a high risk of combustion
- May emit toxic fumes or smoke, necessitating a mask while handling it even if there’s no fire
- Either reacts violently with water, or is unsafe to wash down the drain
Finally, the letter E tells us that evacuation of the surrounding area may be needed in the event of an incident or spill.
Confused about your hazchem signs and emergency information panels?
Signsmart is here to help
It’s a lot to take in, we know – that said, it doesn’t have to be hard!
Are you just getting into the hazchem business? If so, figuring out what sorts of risks the chemicals you carry present, how you should announce them and the appropriate code can be a bit of a struggle.
Luckily, we’re here to help.
At Signsmart, we’re experts in all things safety and hazchem sign-related. Our experts in regulations and codes ensures that you receive hazchem signs and emergency information panels that don’t just help keep your team safe, but comply with current regulations.