Safety and first aid

Understanding the labels on household chemicals

A small bottle featuring  a label with 3 symbols – warning exclamation mark, no don’t swallow and fire hazard

A product label contains information about its level of toxicity (how poisonous it is).

By law, the information must be in large bold letters as a heading on the front of the label.

There are a number of different headings you may see on products - these are called signal headings. Below are some of the common signal headings and what they mean.

Dangerous poison

This indicates the product has high toxicity (very poisonous).

These substances have a high potential to cause harm, even if you are only exposed to a small amount of them.

You must take special precautions if you are manufacturing, handling or using these chemicals.

These chemicals should be available only to specialised or authorised users who have the skills necessary to handle them safely.

These products are not usually found in households but are often found on farms.

Poison

This indicates the product has moderate toxicity.

These substances have a moderate potential for causing harm, however this potential harm can be reduced if the product has distinctive packaging featuring strong warnings and safety directions on the label.

Caution

This indicates the product has low toxicity.

These substances have a low or small potential for causing harm. This potential for harm can be reduced with appropriate packaging featuring simple warnings and safety directions on the label.

Warning or no signal heading

Most household chemicals do not require any signal headings because they have very low toxicity (are not very poisonous).

Some manufacturers may choose to use the word 'warning' on their label because they still need to be handled with care. These substances have very low potential for causing harm.

Product labels

A product label should include information on:

  • how to use the product
  • a warning statement
  • how poisoning might occur
  • likely effects of poisoning
  • first aid instructions in case poisoning does occur.

The label should also include the telephone number of the Poisons Information Centre – 13 11 26, which you should call in case of poisoning.

Where to get help

  • Call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 (24 hours a day) if you suspect poisoning. If the victim has collapsed, dial triple zero (000) to call an ambulance.
  • Contact your local government (external site) environmental health officer for information about disposing of unwanted chemicals.
  • Phone the Waste Authority (external site) on 6467 5325.

Remember

  • Poisons have different levels of toxicity – low, moderate and high.
  • High toxicity poisons are the most dangerous.
  • Most household chemicals have low toxicity but can still be dangerous, especially to young children.

Acknowledgements
Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

Link to HealthyWA Facebook page