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Understanding Biohazard Symbols and Warning Requirements: OSHA, ANSI, and ISO Guidelines

Posted by Clarion Safety Systems | 15th Aug 2023

The biological hazard warning symbol is a popular graphic, used across a variety of equipment and workplace settings. That’s why, in this Clarion Safety blog post, we’ve compiled a list of standards that you may find helpful in determining visual warning requirements for your biohazard. While ISO, ANSI, and OSHA do not individually mandate biohazard labels or signs, they help provide guidance to minimize risks and make sure you’re utilizing best practices.

International (ISO) Biohazard Label and Sign Regulations
ISO (the International Organization for Standardization) provides guidelines and standards for various aspects of industries, including those related to safety symbols, warnings, and instructions. While ISO itself doesn't specifically require biohazard labels, it has developed standards that are relevant to the use of biohazard labels and the communication of biological hazards. Here are a couple of key ISO standards that pertain to biohazard labeling:

  1. ISO 7010 - Graphical symbols - Safety colours and safety signs - Registered safety signs: ISO 7010 is a standard that establishes safety signs and symbols to be used in workplaces and public areas. It includes a range of graphical symbols for conveying safety information. While ISO 7010 doesn't focus exclusively on biohazard labels, it does include the internationally recognized biological hazard symbol as one of its standardized symbols. The biohazard symbol, often referred to as the "biohazard trefoil," is standardized by ISO 7010 with an aim to have people be aware that they need to “take care to avoid exposure to a biological hazard.” ISO also calls out that, in addition to the symbol, “supplementary text” should be used to increase comprehension, unless additional supplemental information is provided by way of a manual, instructions, or training.
  2. ISO 15223-1 - Medical devices - Symbols to be used with medical device labels, labelling, and information to be supplied - Part 1: General requirements: ISO 15223-1 is specific to medical device labeling and symbols. This standard provides guidelines for symbols that can be used on medical device labels to convey important information to users, healthcare professionals, and patients. While ISO 15223-1 covers a wide range of symbols, it does include symbols related to biological hazards, including the biohazard symbol. Manufacturers of medical devices that may come into contact with biological hazards, such as equipment used in laboratories or healthcare settings, should consider the guidelines provided in ISO 15223-1 when designing their labels.

ANSI-Based Biohazard Labeling Requirements
Just like ISO, ANSI (the American National Standards Institute) provides standards related to safety and labeling that are relevant to the use of biohazard labels and the communication of biological hazards. Here are a couple of key ANSI standards that pertain to biohazard labeling:

  1. ANSI Z535 Series: The ANSI Z535 series of standards provides guidelines for safety signs, colors, and labels to enhance safety communication in workplaces and public areas. These standards focus on creating clear and effective safety messages through visual cues. While the ANSI Z535 series covers a wide range of safety signs, it includes guidelines for using symbols such as the biohazard symbol to communicate biological hazards. The biohazard symbol's design, color, and placement are addressed in these standards to ensure that it effectively conveys the presence of hazardous biological materials.
  2. ANSI Z129.1 - Hazardous Industrial Chemicals - Precautionary Labeling: The ANSI Z129.1 standard provides guidelines for the labeling of hazardous industrial chemicals to promote safety in workplaces where these chemicals are used or stored. While this standard is primarily focused on hazardous chemicals, it may also include symbols and labeling guidance relevant to biological hazards, as certain chemicals can pose biological risks.
  3. ANSI Z400.1 - Hazardous Industrial Chemicals - Material Safety Data Sheets - Preparation: ANSI Z400.1 standard focuses on the preparation of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), which provide information about hazardous chemicals. While this standard primarily deals with chemical hazards, it may also provide insights into the communication of biological hazards that can be present in certain substances or environments.

ANSI standards, much like ISO standards, provide guidelines for safety signs, symbols, and labels that are relevant to biohazard labeling and the communication of biological hazards. The ANSI Z535 series addresses safety communication broadly, including symbols like the biohazard symbol, to ensure effective communication of hazards in various environments. Additionally, while not specifically centered on biological hazards, ANSI standards related to hazardous chemicals may include information relevant to communicating biological risks associated with certain substances.

OSHA’s Biohazard Visual Warning Requirements
While OSHA does not have specific standards exclusively for biohazard labels, it does have regulations and standards that are applicable to the use of biohazard labels and the communication of biological hazards. Here are key OSHA standards and regulations that pertain to biohazard labeling:

  1. 29 CFR 1910.1030 - Bloodborne Pathogens Standard: OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens Standard (29 CFR 1910.1030) addresses occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis B virus (HBV), in various healthcare settings and workplaces. While this standard primarily focuses on preventing exposure to bloodborne pathogens, it includes requirements for the use of biohazard labels and color-coded containers to identify and segregate regulated waste. The Bloodborne Pathogens Standard mandates the use of biohazard labels on containers of regulated waste, such as those containing blood, contaminated materials, and sharps. The standard specifies the use of a label with the universal biohazard symbol and the term "Biohazard" in a contrasting color, typically orange or red.
  2. 29 CFR 1910 Subpart Z - Toxic and Hazardous Substances: Within OSHA's Subpart Z, there are various standards related to hazardous substances, including those with potential biological hazards. While not exclusively focused on biohazard labels, these standards may include labeling requirements for substances that present biological risks.
  3. Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200): OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) addresses the labeling and communication of hazardous chemicals in the workplace. While the primary focus is on chemical hazards, some hazardous chemicals may also have biological hazards associated with them, which is important to consider when selecting your GHS symbols.

Manufacturers and workplace safety professionals operating in healthcare and laboratory settings should be aware of these ISO, ANSI, and OSHA standards when implementing warnings and instructions that involve biological hazards. Whether your audience is U.S.-based or international will vary your requirements for which regulatory bodies you should try to cater to. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to remember that OSHA is required by law in the States, but can draw on ANSI and ISO guidelines to enforce other rulings and compliance inspections.

If you have questions about any of our biohazard hazard labels and signs, or are looking to safeguard your equipment further, reach out to our team today!

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