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In an industrial setting, accidents can happen abruptly: an employee encountering a corrosive chemical, risking chemical burns to the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes. This incident underscores the importance of safe handling practices for corrosive and irritating substances. This DENIOS article provides a comprehensive overview of corrosive substances, including acids and alkalis, and delves into the legal framework. Discover how to identify corrosive substances, ensure safe handling procedures, recognize the health hazards, and safeguard yourself and others. With this knowledge, including a practical checklist for hazardous substances in your workplace, you can effectively minimize risks and foster a secure working environment.


  • Corrosive substances, also known as caustic substances, can cause permanent damage to surfaces and tissues and are marked with the pictogram "corrosive effect."

  • They include acids such as hydrochloric acid, bases such as caustic soda, and oxidizing and water-reacting substances, which can be present in various forms.

  • Corrosive substances can cause severe skin irritation, eye injuries, and respiratory damage, with alkalis considered more dangerous due to their deep action.

  • They are divided into categories according to GHS/EPA and are subject to strict regulations, including the Toxic Substances Control Act(TSCA).

  • When dealing with corrosive chemicals, protective measures such as the "STOP" rule are essential; storage requires correct labeling and safe storage.

  • Corrosives are found in everyday cleaning products and require careful handling to prevent accidents.


Corrosive substances, also known as Caustic or erosive, are substances with a corrosive effect that attack surfaces or permanently destroy living tissue. They are evaluated as corrosive and marked with the pictogram or symbol "corrosive effect".

Corrosive substances include:

  • Acids such as hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, and nitric acid.

  • Bases, also called alkalis, include caustic soda and concentrated soapy water.

  • Compounds that react with alkaline or acidic with water.

  • Substances that have an oxidizing effect and remove water.


Irritating substances are hazardous substances that can irritate the skin and mucous membranes on contact and cause inflammation of the eyes and respiratory tract. However, unlike corrosive substances, they do not cause permanent damage to the tissue. Examples of irritants include citric acid, acetic acid, and drain cleaners. Irritating substances are labeled with the hazard symbol "irritant."

The following properties, among others, characterize corrosive substances:

  • They can cause itching, redness, and tissue damage when in contact with the skin.

  • In the case of diluted splashes, they can cause severe damage to the eye.

  • They can be in various forms, such as solid, liquid, gaseous, organic, or inorganic.

  • When in contact with other substances, they can trigger dangerous reactions, such as developing toxic gases.

  • They can corrode metals.


Common examples of corrosive substances in everyday life are drain cleaners, acetic acid, ammonia, and chlorine. Often, corrosive chemicals are not directly recognized, as they are usually only known by their trade name and not by their actual name.

Here is a list of corrosive liquids:

Acids and their usual names:

  • Hydrochloric acid: hydrochloric acid

  • Sulfuric acid: battery acid, vitriol oil, accumulator acid

  • Nitric acid: Acidum nitricum

  • Hydrofluoric acid: hydrofluoric acid

Alkalis and their usual names:

  • Sodium hydroxide: caustic soda, caustic soda, caustic soda

  • Potassium hydroxide: caustic potassium, potassium hydroxide, potassium hydrate, caustic potash

  • Ammonia: ammonium hydrate, ammonium hydroxide, ammonia

  • Calcium hydroxide: milk of lime, slaked lime


OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard adopts the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) to classify hazardous chemicals. Within GHS, OSHA recognizes three hazard categories for corrosive substances:

  1. Skin corrosion/irritation

  2. Serious eye damage/irritation

  3. Corrosive to metals

The classification according to GHS/OSHA is based on the following categories:

  • Category 1: Corrosive to the skin or eyes

  • Category 1A: Corrosive to the skin within 3 minutes or less

  • Category 1B: Corrosive to the skin in more than 3 minutes but less than 1 hour

  • Category 1C: Corrosive to the skin in 1 hour or more but less than 4 hours

  • Category 2: Corrosive to the skin or eyes without falling into category 1

  • Category 3: Corrosive to the respiratory tract

The classification according to the Dangerous Goods Ordinance concerning storage and transport is carried out in different packaging groups – whereby only the effect of the corrosive substance on the skin is taken into account:

  • Packaging Group I: Corrosive effect on the skin within 3 minutes

  • Packaging Group II: Corrosive effect on the skin in more than 3 minutes but less than 1 hour

  • Packaging Group III: Corrosive effect on the skin in 1 hour or more, but less than 4 hours

  • Packaging Group IV: Corrosive to metals

Corrosives are also classified into different groups of substances based on their chemical properties and pH.

Acid-corrosive substances (C1 to C4) – pH below 7:

  • C1: Inorganic liquids

  • C2: Inorganic solids

  • C3: Organic Liquids

  • C4: Organic solids

Alkaline corrosives (C5 to C8) – pH above 7:

  • C5: Inorganic liquids

  • C6: Inorganic solids

  • C7: Organic Liquids

  • C8: Organic solids

Other corrosive substances (C9 to C11) that do not fit into any of the above categories:

  • C9: Liquids (not clearly acidic or alkaline)

  • C10: Solids (not clearly acidic or alkaline)

  • C11: Items (not clearly acidic or alkaline)

Correctly classifying corrosive substances is important to take appropriate protective measures and ensure the safe handling, storage, and transport of these substances.


In The United States, there are various laws, ordinances, and regulations that regulate the safe handling of corrosive substances. These include:

Regulatory Body Content
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) The Toxic Substances Control Act enacted in 1976 empowers the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to mandate reporting, record-keeping, testing, and limitations concerning chemical substances and/or mixtures.
Clean Water Act (CWA) Also implemented by the EPA, this act was established in 1972 established the basic structure for regulating pollutants into the waters of the United States. This act has implemented pollution control programs such as setting wastewater standards for industry.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) ensures that workers receive information about chemical and toxic substance hazards in the workplace and protective measures. It mandates the availability and comprehensibility of chemical identities and hazards to promote workplace safety.
U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) oversees the safe transportation of hazardous materials across all modes of transport, including pipelines, to protect people, property, and the environment. Its Office of Hazardous Materials Safety develops regulations and standards for handling, packaging, and classifying over 1 million daily shipments of hazardous materials within the U.S., aiming to minimize incidents and associated risks.
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commision (CPSC) The FHSA covers products that could reasonably be encountered in or around residential areas, including garages, sheds, or carports, requiring them to have labels warning consumers of potential hazards and providing instructions for safe use. Products are subject to labeling if they contain toxic, corrosive, flammable, or irritant substances, or if they could cause substantial injury or illness during normal handling or foreseeable use, including ingestion by children.

In addition, operating instructions and information, in the form of safety data sheets, are required for employees to inform them about the possible hazards and protective measures for handling corrosive substances resulting from the risk assessment for hazardous substances.

Companies that violate regulations in the transportation of corrosive acids and alkalis may be subject to fines or fines, depending on the severity of the violation and applicable laws and regulations.


Corrosive substances can cause severe damage to health if they come into contact with living tissues such as eyes, skin, or mucous membranes.

  • Skin contact: Corrosives can cause skin irritation, redness, tissue damage, and open wounds. Even splashes of diluted corrosive substances can result in serious injuries.

  • Eye contact: Splashes of acids and alkalis can cause serious eye injuries, including tissue damage and blindness. Contacting the eye with corrosive substances can cause irritation, redness, swelling, and blurred vision.

  • Inhale: Inhalation of gases, vapors, and aerosols of corrosive substances can cause damage to the respiratory tract and lungs. The consequences can be coughing, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, chest pain, and, in severe cases, chemical pneumonia.

  • Swallow: If swallowed, corrosive substances can cause damage to the lips, oral cavity, throat, esophagus, and stomach. This can result in difficulty swallowing, vomiting, bleeding, and, in severe cases, chemical burns to the internal organs.

  • Chemical reactions: When handling corrosive chemicals, accidents can occur due to chemical reactions, such as heat generation.

The corrosive effect depends on the substance's chemical properties, amount, concentration, and duration of exposure. In general, alkalis are considered more dangerous than acids, as they heal worse due to their deep action.

Estimating the corrosive and irritating effect of acids and alkalis can also be made using the pH value.

Information on the respective material properties can be found in the respective safety data sheet, among other things.

Here is a list of corrosive substances with specific health risks:

Hydrochloric acid Mild skin irritation to severe damage to the skin and underlying tissue
Sulfuric acid Strong corrosive effect on the skin and mucous membranes
Acetic acid Mild skin irritation and eye damage
Soda lye Severe chemical burns to the skin and respiratory tract
Caustic potash Strong corrosive effect on skin and mucous membranes
Ammonia Irritates the eyes, skin and respiratory tract
Chlorine Corrosive to skin, eyes and respiratory tract



Before working with hazardous substances, OSHA's Health Hazard Criteria requires a documented risk assessment. This contains a list of all relevant substances and the dangers they pose. The employer must collect information from public sources such as safety data sheets to do this.

In addition to use and consumption, OSHA regulations do not provide a specific list of corrosive materials necessitating eyewash and/or emergency shower facilities. However, according to 29 CFR 1910.151(c) and 29 CFR 1926.50(g), such facilities are required where employees may be exposed to injurious corrosive materials, with Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) serving as one resource to assess the corrosive nature of chemicals. Employers must also assess whether employees will likely encounter hazardous materials that necessitate eyewash or emergency showers during work activities.

Regardless of the risk assessment, OSHA has a longstanding policy that Engineering and work practice controls should be the primary effort to reduce employee exposure to hazardous and corrosive chemicals.

How to control workplace hazards using the "STOP" principal


Replace hazardous chemicals with safer options whenever possible.

Technical Engineering Controls

Minimize exposure to hazardous chemicals by implementing procedures such as sump pallets, isolation, wet methods to minimize dust, dilution ventilation, and utilization of fume hoods.

Organizational and Work Practice Controls

Create comprehensive protocols for managing corrosive substances, involving tasks like labeling containers, developing operational guidelines, and providing staff training. Implement job rotation and adjust schedules to prevent excessive exposure to hazardous chemicals among workers.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):

Employ personal protective equipment like protective clothing, respiratory protection, gloves, and eye protection as primary safeguards.

Combining substitution, technical and organizational measures, and personal protective clothing offers the best strategy for minimizing the risk when handling corrosive substances.



  • Chemical Containers: When filling and dosing small quantities from jerry cans, appropriate devices such as hand pumps, dosing taps, and funnels should be used to prevent spills. Corrosive chemicals can be transported safely in automated dosing stations, but there are still risks when changing the containers or removing the suction lance. We offer a wide range of IBC Tote and other Chemical Containers and accessories.

  • Storage and work rooms: Rooms where irritating and corrosive gases or vapors occur must be well-ventilated to reduce the risk of fire and explosions. With professional warning devices and detectors, escaping hazardous substances can be reliably detected and alarms triggered. Floors should be resistant to the materials used.

  • Storage containers: Containers, fittings, and hoses for storage should be made of corrosion-resistant materials.

  • Safety Cabinets: For the storage of corrosive substances, special safety cabinets designed for the safe storage of hazardous substances can be used.

  • Separate storage: Flammable substances should be stored separately from corrosive ones, even if they are not. Corrosive substances mustn't be stored in places such as above work areas, circulation areas, exits, passageways, airlocks, buffer rooms, under stairs, or on catwalks or platforms. The temporary storage of acids and alkalis on stairs and corridors should be avoided.

  • Secondary Containment: Storage rooms must have liquid-tight spill containment trays to prevent corrosive substances from penetrating the floor. Spilled acids or alkalis must not be discharged into the sewer system.


  • Storage: Only employees who work in facilities, work areas, and storage rooms where irritant and corrosive substances are present are permitted to enter. In such work areas, irritant and corrosive substances should only be present in quantities necessary. Containers with these substances should be stored in a designated location and not distributed throughout the operation.

  • Labeling of Containers: Hazardous substances must always be clearly and correctly labeled to avoid confusion and accidents. According to the Hazardous Substances Ordinance, the GHS labeling is mandatory for all products. This labeling must include the name of the substance, hazard symbols (e.g., "Corrosive"), a signal word ("Caution" or "Danger"), and relevant hazard and safety information (H and P phrases). In certain intra-company situations, simplified labeling may be sufficient, but it requires clear instructions and training of employees on potential workplace hazards and the observance of necessary protective measures.

  • Labeling of Storage Areas: The storage room doors should indicate the maximum permissible storage quantity for corrosive substances. The maximum permitted fill level for storage containers should be clearly and permanently indicated. For stationary containers, overflow protection is recommended.

  • Workplaces: According to OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard "1910.1200" safety signs, warning signs, mandatory signs, prohibition signs, and information signs must be displayed at workplaces.

  • Instruction: According to operating instructions, all employees, including external personnel, must be orally instructed on existing hazards and corresponding protective measures. This instruction must occur before starting work and at least once a year (semi-annually for underage employees) specific to the workplace. The instruction should be explicit and in a language understandable to the employees. The details and date of the instruction must be documented and confirmed by the instructed individuals through signature.


When handling irritating or corrosive substances, personal protective equipment is essential. These include:

  • Eye and face protection: Eye protection is essential. Frame glasses with side protection are suitable for surveillance activities, while basket glasses are required when handling splashing liquids. In case of danger from gases, vapors, or aerosols, a full face mask with a multi-range filter is needed. If there is an increased risk of splashing, a face shield (visor) may be necessary, often in combination with other protective equipment such as goggles, chemical apron, boots, and gloves.

  • Hand Protection: Protective gloves made of durable plastic are essential. The selection will be produced according to the manufacturer's resistance information and the intended use. Limiting the wearing time, regularly checking for damage, and avoiding carrying hazardous substances are also necessary.

  • Body Protection: Depending on the level of danger, coveralls, aprons, and boots are required, taking care not to allow corrosive chemicals to get into the shoes. The condition of the body armor must be checked regularly.

  • Hygiene: Cleanliness in the workplace and work equipment is essential. Contaminants must be removed immediately, and food must not come into contact with hazardous substances. A skin protection plan with skin protection, cleansing, and skin care products should be created.


In case of contact with irritating or corrosive substances and to prevent accidents, the following general measures are recommended:

  • Precautions for spilling corrosive liquids: Use drip trays or devices and appropriate binders for acidic or alkaline chemicals

  • Emergency preparedness and first aid: Provision of first aid facilities such as emergency showers and eye showers to flush the affected areas with water in case of skin or eye contact with hazardous substances

  • Immediate measures for injured persons: Leave the danger zone, seek medical attention, and inform the medical staff about the chemical substance and the first aid measures already carried out

  • Organization of first aid in the company: Provision of emergency numbers, contact details of medical facilities, provision of substance-specific information, procurement of the necessary equipment, and instruction of employees

  • Treatment of eye injuries: Immediate and uninterrupted rinsing of the affected eye with water for at least 20 minutes, removal of contact lenses if possible, and protection of the healthy eye

  • Treatment of skin injuries: Remove contaminated clothing, rinse affected areas of skin and hair thoroughly with water for at least 15 minutes

  • Treatment for respiratory problems: Removing the affected person from the danger zone and administering oxygen in case of respiratory distress


Protect your team and your work equipment! Our compact checklist provides you with guidance on the safe handling of irritating and corrosive substances. It covers all essential protective measures to minimize health risks and ensure safety in the workplace.


Below are the most frequently asked questions about corrosive substances such as acids, alkalis, etc.


"corrosive" is used for substances and mixtures that can damage or irritate living tissue. Examples of such substances are acids, bases, and certain gases. Extreme caution should be exercised when handling corrosive substances, as they can cause serious injury.


"Highly corrosive" refers to substances that can cause severe damage to living tissues and surfaces. Such substances are highly reactive, can quickly react chemically, and cause severe skin and eye damage. They can also destroy metals, plastics, and other materials. They work quickly and can cause damage in a short period.


Acids are corrosive due to their high content of protons (electrically positive hydrogen ions), as these ions are highly reactive and can etch or dissolve many substances. This corrosive effect manifests in the destruction of living tissue and the attack on surfaces. The corrosive effect's strength depends on the acid's concentration in its aqueous solution. In addition, acids react with bases to form water and salts.


In case of skin contact with corrosive liquids, immediate action is required. The following actions should be taken immediately:

  • Rinse: Rinse the affected skin area thoroughly with lukewarm water, removing contaminated clothing and jewelry.

  • Emergency call: In case of severe injury or insecurity, call the emergency services immediately and provide precise information about the corrosive substance.

  • Treatment of the affected area: Avoid contact with the corrosive substance through protective gloves and clothing, keep the skin dry and clean, and use sterile dressings for open wounds. If symptoms persist, consult a doctor.

It is essential to always refer to the specific safety data sheets and first aid instructions of the respective substance.


According to the dangerous goods regulations, corrosive substances are assigned to a class of hazardous goods 8. This class includes substances with acidic or alkaline properties, which may cause injuries to the skin, mucous membranes, or internal organs if touched, inhaled, or swallowed. In addition, these corrosive substances impair or destroy other substances or goods during transport.


Neutralization involves a reaction between an acid and a base until a pH of 7 is reached. At this point, the solution is neutral, and the corrosive effect of the acid and base cancel each other out. This reaction releases large amounts of energy and is exothermic, i.e., heat energy is released.


The storage of toxic and corrosive substances must follow their hazard class and the applicable regulations. The following are some basic guidelines for the safe storage of such substances:

  • Separate storage: Toxic and corrosive substances should be stored separately from other incredibly flammable substances.

  • Marking: Containers containing toxic and corrosive substances should be clearly labeled for clear identification.

  • Safety Data Sheets: Safety data sheets should be available for all stored toxic and corrosive substances. These contain important information about the substances, their hazards, and the necessary protective measures.

  • Safety equipment: When storing toxic and corrosive substances, appropriate safety equipment such as protective gloves, protective suits, goggles, and acid-resistant boots should be available.

  • Interior design: Rooms storing toxic and corrosive substances should be well-ventilated and have suitable facilities to collect leaking substances.

  • No food nearby: No food or beverages should be stored and consumed near toxic and corrosive substances.

  • Cleaning: After handling toxic and corrosive substances, hands and face should be thoroughly cleaned to remove residues of the substances.


Safely handling corrosive substances such as acids and alkalis is essential for preventing health risks and accidents – in both the professional and private spheres. These substances can cause severe damage if they come into contact with the skin. Therefore, they must be correctly identified, classified, and labeled according to United States law. In addition, they require careful storage and handling, with self-protection through comprehensive information and preparation being a top priority. A Denios Chemical Locker is a great option, depending on your needs. For safe work with corrosive substances, DENIOS offers an extensive range – from standard-compliant warning labels to chemical cabinets and eyewashes.

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The specialist information on this page has been compiled carefully and to the best of our knowledge and belief. Nevertheless, DENIOS Inc cannot assume any warranty or liability of any kind, whether in contract, tort or otherwise, for the topicality, completeness and correctness either towards the reader or towards third parties. The use of the information and content for your own or third party purposes is therefore at your own risk. In any case, please observe the locally and currently applicable legislation.

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