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Guide to COSHH Symbols

Working in an industry that handles chemicals or hazardous substances means that you have most likely come across the term COSHH, as it is most commonly seen on the labels of bottles and containers that store dangerous substances.

Whether you are entirely unfamiliar with the whole concept of COSHH, or you have an idea about what it entails but aren’t too clear about the details, here at First Mats, we can help. This guide covers what COSHH is, why it is crucial to adhere to guidelines, and all the different types of COSHH symbols, so you know what to look for when handling hazardous substances and the steps to take in the event of an accident.

    Why Is Adhering To COSHH Standards Important?

      The unsafe storage of chemicals, directly and indirectly, impacts people’s health. If stored incorrectly, fumes and gases can escape, resulting in short-term effects such as burns and headaches and long-term outcomes, including lifelong breathing problems. It can even cause fatal injuries.

      The environment is another reason why it is so essential to adhere to COSHH standards. Once a hazardous substance is spilt or released into the air, contamination occurs, and there is no way of reversing it. The only thing that can be done is to clean up the spill or contain the damaging fumes to prevent any widespread consequences. Spills can adversely affect marine life and aquatic plants if the spill occurs near a river or lake or animals, plants and insects if it occurs on or near fields or grassland.

      Product life also plays a vital role within COSHH standards. Many chemicals tend to have a long lifespan, but storing all chemicals according to the guidance allows you to keep an eye on how much shelf life they have left. This can help reduce environmental waste and save you money in the long run.

      What Are The Different COSHH Symbols, and What Do They Mean?

      COSHH symbols, also known as hazard pictograms, inform a person of any potential hazardous effects of a particular chemical. Their purpose is to help people identify that the chemicals being used might cause harm to people or the environment.

      In the UK, hazard pictograms are found in the shape of a diamond with a white background and a bold, distinctive red border.  You may find that a particular substance will only have one pictogram on its packaging, or there may be more than two present, depending on the risks and hazards that the substance presents.

      COSHH Symbol

      Description

      Meaning

      Examples of Chemicals

       

      GHS Explosive Symbol

       

      Explosive materials (symbol: bomb exploding)

      This symbol represents chemicals, substances or any workplace occurrence that may cause an explosion. 

      Heavy metal azides

      Acetylene

       

      GHS Flammable Symbol

      Flammable (symbol: open flame)

       

       

      This symbol highlights flammable chemicals or substances that can ignite.

      Acetone

      Benzene

      Methanol

       GHS Oxidising Symbol

      Oxidising (symbol: flame over circle)

      This symbol represents chemicals that can have a dangerous reaction with other chemicals. It could also mean anything that acts as an oxidiser, which could increase the intensity of a fire.

      Bleach

      Hydrogen peroxide Halogens

       

      GHS Corrosive Symbol

      Corrosive (symbol: corrosion on hands and surface)

      This symbol warns against chemical that may cause damage on contact.

      Ammonia

      Acetic acid

      Hydrochloric acid drain cleaners

       GHS Acute Toxicity Skull and Crossbones Symbol

      Toxic (symbol: skull and crossbones)

      This symbol represents chemicals that can cause a lot of damage in small quantities such as when inhaled, swallowed or in contact with skin.

      Cyanides

      White or red phosphorus

      Sodium azide

       

      GHS Environmentally Damaging Symbol

       

      Hazardous for the environment (symbol: a dead tree and dead fish)

      This symbol represents the risk of substances that can cause serious damage to the environment.

      Pesticides

      Biocides

      Petrol

       

      GHS Compressed Gas Symbol

      Gases under pressure (symbol: gas cylinder)

      This symbol represents a situation where gas is under pressure and may explode if heated, or lead to cryogenic injuries when refrigerated.

      Flammable – Methane Oxidising – Chlorine Poisonous – Carbon Monoxide

       

      GHS Health Hazard Symbol

      Serious health hazards (symbol: internal damage)

      This symbol represents serious long-term threats to health, such as if a hazard can lead to death if swallowed, affect fertility or lead to cancer.

      Asbestos

      Benzene

      Vinyl chloride

       GHS Irritant Symbol

      Health hazard (symbol: exclamation mark)

      This is a general COSHH hazard symbol that indicates that there are substances dangerous to health present and they may cause irritation, dizziness, or allergic reactions.

      Bleach and other cleaning chemicals

      Paints

      Glues

      Heavy metals

       

      Final Word

      As an employer, you have a duty of care to protect your staff from all known potential risks. This means adhering to all COSHH guidelines as they apply to your work environment, completing regular risk assessments and ensuring that all chemicals and hazardous substances are correctly labelled with the right symbols.

      By using our table above, you can quickly and easily identify which COSHH signs and symbols you need to display on cabinets when storing hazardous materials. For any questions about COSHH symbols, or if you would like any further information, please get in touch with us on 0121 702 1659, where our friendly team will be able to assist you.

      Sources:

      Author:

      Richard O'Connor's Headshot

      Richard O'Connor is a Director at First Mats. He has deep knowledge in areas like Manufacturing, Warehousing, Marine, and Health & Safety. Richard's insights have been featured in well-known publications such as Bloomberg Business, The Sun, and Reader's Digest. His blend of industry expertise and passion for sharing makes him a sought-after voice in his fields.

      Contact Richard