Workplace safety signs, dangerous goods labels and emergency information panels – each of these are crucial if you’re to keep your team safe around hazardous chemicals and substances.
But what good are these signs if you can’t understand what they say?
In addition to a hazchem diamond, each emergency information panel is required by law yo also include:
- The substance name
- Its hazchem code
- Emergency contacts
- Specialist contacts (if required)
- The substance’s UN number
We’ve talked about hazchem codes in the past, and the substance name and contacts are pretty straightforward.
But what about the UN number? What’s that exactly?
The push for global standardisation
We ship a lot more things overseas than we did 100 years ago.
In some cases, that includes dangerous cargo such as hazardous chemicals and substances.
Because of this, it’s important that delivery drivers, dock workers and warehouse workers understand what they’re working with, regardless of culture or language.
Dangerous goods labels and GHS signs can help – however, since they only use images, they’re limited in what they can say.
To get around this, the UN devised a numbering scheme to ensure that chemicals, substances and dangerous goods can be recognised around the world.
Dangerous goods, substances and chemicals are assigned a 4-digit number that identifies them. At the time of writing, there are 3549 numbers in use – each for a different substance.
Upon seeing the digit, you (or the recipients of your cargo) will be able to look up the substance. Having a globally-recognised number eliminates the need for you to assign each shipment dozens or hundreds of signs in different languages.
Now, we know what you’re thinking: what’s the point when Google exists?
While it’s possible to look up a shipment on Google by name, remember that not all workplaces allow workers to carry their phones on them.
And what if it’s a warehouse in a rural area with no mobile internet coverage?
In these cases, it’s down to the UN number and a good old-fashioned index or glossary (every workplace that deals with dangerous goods should have a copy!)
Do the individual digits mean anything?
If you work with hazardous chemicals on a regular basis, you know that each digit in a substance’s hazchem code means something else, be it:
- Proper fire response
- Disposal techniques
- Required PPE
Unlike hazchem codes, there isn’t really a system to the digits in UN numbers – these numbers are assigned in order as needed. Hypothetically, you could have arsenic only a digit away from fireworks!
Assigning a UN number to your shipment
If you’re shipping dangerous or hazardous cargo, it is important that your emergency information panels include the appropriate UN number.
In most cases, it’s as simple as looking up the cargo by its proper shipping name in the index of UN numbers.
Sometimes however, it’s not that straightforward. For mixtures or other articles, it can take a bit more work.
How do you go about that?
Look for the next closest entry
If you can’t find an entry for your specific cargo, the first thing you should do is look for a number and generic entry.
Some examples include UN1133 (adhesives), or UN1263 (paint).
Just be warned that these are extremely broad categories, and may not accurately reflect the attributes of the substance you’re dispatching. For example, if you’re transporting toxic paint, the general ‘paint” entry may not be accurate enough to meet your signage requirements.
For more specific substances, seek out entries that include the N.O.S suffix. For example: UN1078 Refrigerant Gases, N.O.S
N.O.S stands for “not otherwise specified”, and is used for more specific substances.
Just be warned: these are listed under recognised technical or chemical names – trade names are not accepted.
In addition to the UN number itself, you’ll also have to write the cargo’s chemical name.
In some cases, you might have to assign an additional description word to accurately describe the cargo depending on a range of factors including its composition, state and the mode of transport.
- Waste products – shipping name should be preceded by the word “waste”
- Melted cargo – should be preceded with the word “molten”
- Mixtures – should be identified by the predominant substance and accompanied by the word “mixture” or “solution” as well as the proportion
- Flash point – some substances require the flash point (the lowest temperature at which a material can form an air/vapour mix that can ignite) to be displayed
These are just some of the extra considerations you’ll have to keep in mind when assigning a UN number – there can be many more depending on what you are transporting!
It is a lot to take in if you want your emergency information panels and documentation to be 100% compliant with your signage requirements.
Luckily, there is help out there!
Smarter, safer signs and emergency information panels
At Signsmart, we do not just make the signs – we also work with our customer to ensure that the signs and emergency information panels are compliant with Australian and international signage standards.
That includes ensuring that your signs are using an appropriate UN number.
Our team will help you navigate the thousands of UN numbers, helping find the one that best describes your product or cargo.
Confused by your signage requirements? Unsure how your cargo should be labelled? Need a custom emergency information panel made?
If it involves safety signs, Signsmart is the team to call.