A Guide to COSHH

Keeping ourselves safe when handling chemicals is incredibly important. Workers, retailers and buyers alike all need to know what effects a chemical can have on their health and take the precautions necessary to avoid potential harm. Because of this, it’s important to get clued up on the symbols for COSHH, which stands for Control of Substances Hazardous to Health. Here is a quick guide to help you get started.

Why is COSHH so important?

COSHH has prevented thousands of chemical-related deaths since its introduction in 2002 under the European Community Act 1972. Each year,  

https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/overall/hssh2021.pdf 13,000 fatalities are caused by past exposure to common but dangerous substances such as methane and asbestos, which were used before the introduction of control methods. Therefore, working with any chemical should never be taken lightly.


There are nine hazard symbols used within the COSHH system, and these are used on canisters, bottles, vats, or carriers which contain the chemical they describe. These are black symbols enclosed in a red border, with a white background. They are diamond in shape.

The different symbols include:

  • Flammable: depicted by a flame, these substances are easily ignitable.
  • Explosives: depicted by an explosion, these substances will explode in the case of a rise in temperature or sudden shock.
  • Corrosive: depicted by a hand and metal bar being dissolved, these substances corrode living tissue and various non-living materials.
  • Oxidising: shown by a flame over a circle, these substances are dangerous when they react with other chemicals and can cause fires and explosions.
  • Gas under pressure: depicted by a gas cylinder illustration, this is shown on the side of a container when a substance is stored in compressed gas form.
  • Toxic: represented by a skull and cross bone image, these are poisonous substances which can cause death or serious illness if they come into contact with anything alive.
  • Health hazard: depicted by an exclamation mark, these substances cause an immediate health concern if inhaled or swallowed.
  • Serious health hazard: denoted by a human with a six-pointed star over the chest, these substances cause disastrous long-term health conditions including infertility disorders, breathing problems and genetic changes.
  • Danger for the environment: depicted by a dead fish and tree image, these substances cause acute to severe changes to the environment, such as plant or animal killing.

What will I find affected by COSHH?

Many chemicals in day-to-day life will have these symbols on them, including cleaning products, paints and polishes. No matter how safe you feel they are, each one of them has the potential to be hazardous if handled incorrectly. With the help of COSHH’s continued training, you can use them safely.