If you work in an industry where you have to deal with hazardous substances, chances are you have come across numerous COSHH symbols during your daily duties. COSHH symbols are pictograms that are displayed on the packaging of any substances that can be hazardous to health or to the environment. Their purpose is to provide information on the hazards of a particular substance in a fast and easy to comprehend manner.
Every person that works with hazardous substances should be able to recognize and understand the meaning of the various COSHH hazard symbols. We’ve put together a quick guide to give you a good overview of the COSHH symbols and their meanings.
What Does COSHH Mean?
COSHH is an acronym for the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations which was originally introduced into UK legislation in 1988. The most recent amendments to COSHH took place in 2002. The main aim of COSHH is to ensure that employers protect their workers from injury or ill health associated with the handling of hazardous substances.
COSHH covers a wide range of substances, including solids, liquids, dust, fumes, fibres, vapours, particles, gases, mists and biological agents. If a substance poses a health risk, is combustible or explosive, or may damage the environment, then it falls within the COSHH regulations.
What are the COSHH Symbols?
COSSH symbols are hazard pictograms that are used to alert people to the possible risks associated with a chemical or substance, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
COSSH hazard symbols are depicted as black pictures on a square orange background. These symbols were defined under the 2009 Chemicals (Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply) Regulations (CHIP).
However, since 2009, COSSH symbols have been updated to include European regulations related to the classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures (CLP Regulations). The old range and black symbols were officially replaced by newer symbols as of the 1st of June 2017.
The new COSSH symbols are black pictograms on a white background with a red diamond border. Although the wording of the names of the symbols can sometimes differ, there are nine accepted types of official COSSH symbols:
- Hazardous to the Environment
- Health Hazards
- Serious Health Hazards
- Gas Under Pressure
Explosive substances are identified by a pictogram of an exploding bomb. This signifies that a substance may explode in certain conditions. The substance may be inherently unstable, may explode in fire, or may pose a mass explosion hazard, a severe projection hazard, or a fire, blast or projection hazard.
Flammable substances will show the illustration of a flame. This symbol is used on any substance that may catch fire if it comes in contact with air or comes in contact with an ignition source. It is also used for substances that have low flash points or that may ignite when in contact with water. Flammable substances can be solids, liquids or gases.
A flame over a circle resting on a line is the oxidising symbol. Any chemicals or preparations that may cause an exothermic reaction when in contact with another chemical will carry this symbol. These substances can cause an explosion, start a fire or increase the intensity of an existing fire. Oxygen that is used for medical purposes or most types of bleach are common oxidisers.
Corrosive substances will carry a COSSH symbol that has two test tubes pouring a liquid onto a human hand and a rectangular block. Both the block and the hand are shown to be reacting to the substance. Corrosive substances will severely damage living tissue or other materials upon contact. Drain cleaners, chemicals used to develop photographs and industrial pesticides can often be highly corrosive.
Skull and crossbones are featured on the COSSH toxicity symbol. The packaging of any substance that is either toxic or fatal when it comes into contact with skin, is inhaled or swallowed will have this symbol. Even low-level exposure to these substances can be severely damaging to health.
6. Hazardous to the Environment
Substances that pose either an immediate or delayed hazard to the environment are designated by a picture of a landscape with a dead tree and a dying fish. These substances can cause damage to one or more components of the environment, either immediately or after a period of time. This symbol is often found on pesticides, petrol, turpentine, and other chemicals.
7. Health Hazards
A large exclamation mark identifies a substance as being hazardous to health. This symbol is also used to signify that caution must be used when handling this substance. It replaces the previous symbols used to classify substances that can be harmful to health or are irritants.
If a substance with this designation is swallowed, inhaled or comes into contact with skin it may cause skin reactions, allergies, drowsiness, dizziness, eye irritations, or may harm the public health by damaging the earth’s ozone layer.
8. Serious Health Hazards
A human figure that has white lines forming a six-pointed star in its chest is used to designate any substance that can cause long-term health issues. Substances that carry this symbol can also be fatal if ingested or inhaled.
Short-term or prolonged exposure to substances with this designation can cause serious health problems. The harm caused by these substances can include cancer, organ damage, damage to fertility or an unborn child, genetic defects, respiratory problems or asthma.
9. Gas Under Pressure
A gas cylinder is used to depict gas under pressure. Any container that is filled with pressurised gas should carry this symbol. Some forms of pressurised gas may explode when heated. Refrigerated gas may result in cryogenic injuries and burns. The gas under pressure symbol is the only symbol that was not represented under the previous classification system.
Where to Get More COSHH Training
All employees should learn safe methods of working with hazardous substances. Advanced COSHH training will ensure that you avoid injuries or fatalities when handling hazardous materials.
If you are interested in different health and safety trainings, then you can find a wide range of online courses on the Human Focus website. Human Focus hosts a range of specialised COSHH training courses, including:
- COSHH Awareness Training
- Hazardous Substances Risk Assessment
- Hazardous Substances in Healthcare
- Silica Dust Awareness Training
All courses can be undertaken at your convenience and are fully certified and accredited by reputable bodies such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA).