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26th June, 2018

The 9 COSHH Hazard Symbols (Meanings And What They Look Like)

Ever seen those orange symbols on bottles and tins like paint and cleaning substances, and wondered what they mean?

Placed on the packaging of hazardous substances, COSHH symbols are there to tell you about the type of hazard a substance presents. A substance may be classified as one or more of the following 9 types:

  • Toxic
  • Explosives
  • Flammable
  • Oxidising
  • Gas under pressure
  • Corrosive
  • Long Term Health Hazards
  • Caution
  • Dangerous for the environment

Some are fairly self-explanatory, but some are a little more confusing.

You might already be familiar with new black and red COSHH symbols that replaced the orange symbols in 2017, or that might just have added to the confusion.

While there are 9 COSHH symbols officially in use today (the current red and black ones), the orange pictograms might still be present in older stock and past material safety data sheets (MSDS). So really, there are 18 COSHH symbols you may need to know about.

In this blog post we will take a look at all 18 symbols, but be aware that the old orange and black symbols were officially replaced by the new red and black symbols in 2017, so we will go into a little more depth for the meaning of the 9 new COSHH symbols.

The following symbols are the familiar orange and black COSHH symbols that have been around for years and relate only to the Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations 2009 - known as CHIP.

coshh symbol toxic

Toxic

Chemicals that at low levels cause damage to health.

coshh symbol very toxic

Very Toxic

Chemicals that at very low levels cause damage to health.

coshh symbol harmful

Harmful

Chemicals that may cause damage to health.

coshh symbol irritant

Irritant

Chemicals that may cause inflammation to the skin or other mucous membranes.

coshh symbol highly flammable

Highly Flammable

Chemicals that may catch fire in contact with air, only need brief contact with an ignition source, have a very low flash point or evolve highly flammable gases in contact with water.

coshh symbol extremely flammable

Extremely Flammable

Chemicals that have an extremely low flash point and boiling point, and gases that catch fire in contact with air.

coshh symbol explosive

Explosive

Chemicals and preparations that explode.

coshh symbol dangerous for the environment

Dangerous for the environment

Chemicals that may present an immediate or delayed danger to one or more components of the environment.

coshh symbol oxidising

Oxidising

Chemicals and preparations that react exothermically with other chemicals.

coshh symbol corrosive

Corrosive

Chemicals that may destroy living tissue on contact.

OK, so while you have probably seen those orange symbols before, they were officially replaced in June 2017 by the new European Regulation on the classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures (known as CLP regulation).

Let's take a look at the new COSHH symbols and what they mean:

coshh explosive

Explosives

Meanings:

  • Unstable explosive
  • Explosive; mass explosion hazard.
  • Explosive; severe projection hazard.
  • Explosive; fire, blast or projection hazard.
  • May mass explode in fire.
coshh flammable

Flammable

Meanings:

  • Extremely flammable gas.
  • Flammable gas.
  • Extremely flammable aerosol.
  • Flammable aerosol.
  • Highly flammable liquid and vapour.
  • Flammable liquid and vapour.
  • Flammable solid .
coshh oxidising

Oxidising

Meanings:

  • May cause or intensify fire; oxidiser.
  • May cause fire or explosion; strong oxidiser.
  • Usually found on bleach, oxygen for medical purposes etc.
coshh gases

Gas under pressure

Meanings:

  • Contains gas under pressure - may explode if heated.
  • Contains refrigerated gas - may cause cryogenic burns or injury.
  • Usually found on gas containers.
coshh corrosive

Corrosive

Meanings:

  • May be corrosive to metals.
  • Causes severe skin burns and eye damage.
  • Usually found on drain cleaners, acetic acid, hydrochloric acid, ammoniac etc.
coshh toxic

Toxic

Meanings:

  • Fatal if swallowed.
  • Fatal in contact with skin.
  • Fatal if inhaled.
  • Toxic: if swallowed.
  • Toxic in contact with skin.
  • Toxic if inhaled.
coshh caution

Caution

Meanings:

  • May cause respiratory irritation.
  • May cause drowsiness or dizziness.
  • May cause an allergic skin reaction.
  • Causes serious eye irritation.
  • Causes skin irritation.
  • Harmful if swallowed.
  • Harmful in contact with skin.
  • Harmful if inhaled.
  • Harms public health and the environment by destroying ozone in the upper atmosphere.
coshh long term

Long Term Health Hazards

Meanings:

  • May be fatal if swallowed and enters airways.
  • Causes damage to organs.
  • May cause damage to organs.
  • May damage fertility or the unborn child.
  • Suspected of damaging fertility or the unborn child.
  • May cause cancer.
  • Suspected of causing cancer.
  • May cause genetic defects.
  • Suspected of causing genetic defects.
  • May cause allergy or asthma symptoms or breathing difficulties if inhaled.
coshh environment

Dangerous for the environment

Meanings:

  • Very toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects.
  • Toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects.
  • Usually found on pesticides, biocides, petrol, turpentine etc.

Since COSHH assessments are a legal requirement, if you are working with chemicals that are hazardous to health, and completing the necessary COSHH risk assessments, you should be aware of the symbols that are included on the packaging of substances.

These COSHH symbols give you a good indication of the main hazards associated with the substance.

Once you have identified the hazards, you can start assessing the risks to those using the substance and pick the controls you need to minimise those risks to a safe level.

Don't know where to start? Read 9 ways to comply with COSHH or browse through our COSHH assessment templates.

This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and a degree in construction management. She is NEBOSH qualified and a member of IOSH.

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