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27th March, 2019

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

Ever seen those square orange symbols on bottles and tins like paint and cleaning substances, and wondered what they mean? Or you might already be familiar with new diamond black and red COSHH symbols, that replaced the orange symbols in 2017. Or that might just have added to the confusion!

coshh explosivecoshh symbol explosivecoshh flammable

The square orange and black COSHH symbols that have been around for years under the Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations - known as CHIP.

The diamond red and black COSHH symbols are newer and were introduced by the European Regulation on the classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures (known as the CLP Regulations). They have been gradually phased in since 2009.

What do both groups of symbols have in common? Orange or red. Square or diamond. They are hazard symbols given to chemicals and substances that are hazardous to health. Both CHIP and the CLP Regulations ensure that the hazards are clearly communicated to workers and consumers. On packaging, labelling and datasheets.

Both sets of COSHH symbols were around together for a while. However, the orange symbols have been gradually phased out over the last decade. The red diamond symbols officially replaced the orange symbols on the 1st of June 2017. The new diamond red and black symbols are what you now need to know about, and we are going to cover them in this post.

coshh explosive

Explosives

coshh flammable

Flammable

coshh oxidising

Oxidising

coshh gases

Gases under pressure

coshh corrosive

Corrosive

coshh toxic

Toxic

coshh caution

Health hazards

coshh long term

Serious health hazards

coshh environment

Dangerous for the environment

These names are not the official names given to each symbol. In fact, the regulations actually give each symbol to a range of meanings. So some categories might be known by a couple of names, for example, health hazard is sometimes referred to as 'caution'. And serious health hazards is also known as long-term health hazards. Some are fairly self-explanatory, but some are a little more confusing.

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, and we will look at which orange symbols have been replaced (and removed).

It's not just the colour of the COSHH symbols that changed. New meanings were introduced, and some symbols were phased out. If you want to know what changed since the old square orange and black symbols, we will look at that too.

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:

  • Explosives
  • Flammable
  • Oxidising
  • Gas under pressure
  • Corrosive
  • Toxic
  • Health hazards
  • Serious health hazards
  • Dangerous for the environment
coshh explosive

Explosives

These are chemicals and preparations that explode. This is a straight replacement for the previous explosive classification. The symbol is a pictogram of an exploding bomb.

Meanings:

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

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. It replaces the old classifications of highly flammable and extremely flammable. The symbol is a flame.

Meanings:

  • Extremely flammable gas.
  • Flammable gas.
  • Extremely flammable aerosol.
  • Flammable aerosol.
  • Highly flammable liquid and vapour.
  • Flammable liquid and vapour.
  • Flammable solid .
Replaces: coshh symbol highly flammable coshh symbol extremely flammable
coshh oxidising

Oxidising

A classification for chemicals and preparations that react exothermically with other chemicals. Replaces the previous symbol for oxidising. The symbol is a flame over a circle.

Meanings:

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

Gas under pressure

Gas stored under pressure, such as in gas containers. This is a new symbol that wasn't represented under the old classification system. The symbol is a gas cylinder.

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

Chemicals that may destroy living tissue on contact. Matches the previous symbol for corrosion, the pictogram shows corrosion of material and skin.

Meanings:

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

Toxic

Chemicals that at low and very low levels cause damage to health. Replacing the old classifications of toxic and very toxic. The symbol is a skull and crossbones.

Meanings:

  • Fatal if swallowed.
  • Fatal in contact with skin.
  • Fatal if inhaled.
  • Toxic: if swallowed.
  • Toxic in contact with skin.
  • Toxic if inhaled.
Replaces: coshh symbol toxic coshh symbol very toxic coshh symbol harmful
coshh caution

Health Hazard

Chemicals that may cause damage to health. Also known to mean caution. This is the closest replacement to the previous harmful and irritant classifications. The symbol is an exclamation mark.

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.
Replaces: coshh symbol harmful
coshh long term

Serious Health Hazard

Also known to mean long term health hazards. These are chemicals that can cause serious and long term damage to health. The symbol shows a person with damage.

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.
Replaces: coshh symbol toxic coshh symbol harmful
coshh environment

Dangerous for the environment

Chemicals that may present an immediate or delayed danger to one or more components of the environment. The symbol is of a dead tree and fish.

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.
Replaces: coshh symbol dangerous for the environment

Want to help make your team aware of the COSHH symbols and meanings? Download the free COSHH symbols PDF download today.

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 these symbols. They are included on the packaging of substances to guide you as to the type of hazard it is. These COSHH symbols give you a good indication of the main dangers and risks associated with the substance.

Once you have identified the type of hazardous substance used, you can start assessing the risks to those using the substance. This will help you to pick the safety measures 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.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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