Workplace Safety

COSHH Symbols and Meanings

By Fiona Burns
28 Jul 2021

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 are vital to the health & safety of your workplace. These general requirements protect workers and visitors to your premises, and one of the main ways they do this is through signage.

In this article we’ll take a look at what these symbols are and how you can use them effectively. If you need further information on COSHH, you can find it here.

What are COSHH symbols?

There are many COSHH signs and symbols you need to be aware of. Some of them are common, whereas you’ll only find others in certain work environments.

You can identify these symbols by the red diamond frame and black picture at the centre.

What’s the purpose of COSHH signs?

They provide quick warning of dangerous substances. The different signs cover a variety of substances, including:

  1. Chemicals.
  2. Fumes.
  3. Mists.
  4. Vapours.
  5. Products containing chemicals.
  6. Nontechnology.
  7. Gases and asphyxiating gases.
  8. Biological agents.
  9. Germs that cause diseases.

Recognising COSHH signs and understanding their meanings is crucial to keeping your staff safe. And ensuring they’re aware of the relevant dangers at work. In this next section we’ll go through each symbol and explain what you should take from it.

COSHH symbols and their meanings

We’ll begin with the more common COSHH symbols you’ll see in the UK, and finish with the least common:

Health hazards - COSHH symbols

Health hazards (symbol: exclamation mark)

This is a general COSHH hazard symbol that indicates that there are substances dangerous to health present.

It can also be used to indicate caution due to:

  1. Respiratory irritation.
  2. Dizziness and/or drowsiness.
  3. Allergic reactions.
  4. Serious eye irritation.
  5. Skin irritation.
  6. Substances harmful if swallowed.
  7. Damage on contact with skin.
  8. Damage when inhaled.
  9. Damage to public health by causing damage in the ozone layer.

Flammable - COSHH symbol

Flammable (Symbol: open flame)

This symbol highlights flammable chemicals or substances that can ignite. Usually indicates:

  1. Flammable gas.
  2. Highly flammable gas.
  3. Highly flammable or flammable aerosol.
  4. Highly flammable or flammable liquid or vapour.
  5. A flammable solid.

Serious health hazards - COSHH symbols

Serious health hazards (Symbol: internal damage)

This symbol represents serious long-term threats to health, such as if a hazard can:

  1. Lead to death if swallowed or inhaled.
  2. Cause damage to organs.
  3. Damage fertility or affect pregnancies.
  4. Lead to or cause cancer.
  5. Lead to or cause genetic defects.
  6. Lead to asthma or breathing difficulties if inhaled.

Gases under pressure - COSHH symbol

Gases under pressure (Symbol: gas cylinder)

This symbol represents situation where gas is under pressure. This includes:

  1. Gas contained under pressure which may explode when heated.
  2. Refrigerated gas, could lead to cryogenic injuries.

Toxic - COSHH symbol

Toxic (Symbol: skull and crossbones)

This symbol represents chemicals that can cause a lot of damage in small quantities. This is usually when it:

  1. Can cause fatalities when swallowed, inhaled, or when it comes in contact with skin.
  2. Can be toxic if swallowed, inhaled, or when it comes into contact with skin.

Corrosive - COSHH symbol

Corrosive (Symbol: corrosion on hands and surface)

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

  1. Corrosion on metals.
  2. Severe skin and eye damage.

This is often found in ammonia, acetic acid, hydrochloric acid, drain cleaners etc.

Damage to the environment - COSHH symbol

Dangerous 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. These could be immediate or long-term effects to multiple components. These are most commonly found in pesticides, biocides, petrol, etc.

Oxidising - COSHH symbol

Oxidising (Symbol: open flame over a circle)

This symbol represents chemicals that can lead to a dangerous reaction with other chemicals. This may be anything that acts as an oxidiser that could increase the intensity of the fire. It could also lead to an explosion in some cases. Usually found on bleach.

Explosive - COSHH symbol

Explosives (symbol: bomb exploding)

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

  1. Mass explosion hazards.
  2. Severe projection hazards.
  3. Fire, blast or projection hazards.
  4. Mass exploding in fire.
  5. Unstable explosions.

Expert support on health & safety from Croner

You have a duty of care to protect your staff from all potential hazards at risk. That means completing thorough risk assessments, using signs to highlight hazards and making sure workers have everything they need to complete work safely.

Failing to comply with COSHH regulations puts your staff at significant risk, and can lead to enforcement action, such as prosecution and fines.

We can help you to identify the hazards in your workplace and put processes in place to keep your staff safe. We can help you create detailed risk assessments, or provide a second opinion with our 24-hour health & safety advice line. Speak to one of our expert health & safety advisers today on 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Fiona Burns

Fiona Burns has practical experience in Health & Safety and Risk Management having worked for major insurer prior to joining Croner.

She has gained extensive helpline experience offering competent advice and timely support to large number of clients, in various industries and at all levels.  Completed the NEBOSH General Certificate, also passed NEBOSH Environmental Diploma Unit A, (IOSH Managing Environmental responsibilities). NEBOSH Fire and Risk Management Certificate, FPA Advance Fire Training, NCRQ Diploma – Distinction currently completing IPD and volunteering for Community project in Atherstone also as a Dementia support worker with CWPT.


Fiona Burns

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