Aspiration Hazard

Last updated: September 26, 2018

What Does Aspiration Hazard Mean?

An aspiration hazard refers to a substance that has the potential to enter the trachea and lower respiratory system via the oral or nasal cavity through the process of aspiration, the introduction of a substance into the respiratory system through the course of a single inspiration (inhaled breath).

Aspiration hazards have the potential to cause asphyxiation, injury, or negative health effects. They are ranked according to their level of toxicity and range in severity from mildly dangerous to fatal.

Safeopedia Explains Aspiration Hazard

Hazards can also be aspirated indirectly if an individual vomits an ingested substance that also poses an aspiration hazard, either because the substance induced vomiting by itself or because vomiting was purposefully induced as an attempt to get rid of the hazard.

The concept of an aspiration hazard is detailed under the United Nations' Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). As the GHS system has been adopted into the hazard communication standards of many occupational health and safety jurisdictions worldwide, the aspiration hazard concept has become a ubiquitous part of how chemical safety is interpreted in an occupational context. However, because not every part of the GHS needs to be adopted by a country that adopts the GHS system, the extent to which aspiration hazards are incorporated into a country’s specific hazard communication standards can vary significantly.

In the United States, OSHA’s hazard communication standard requires that only the most severe of the two GHS aspiration hazard categories be incorporated into hazard labeling and other identification materials. Categories not incorporated into OSHA’s system would need to be referred to as a “Hazard Not Otherwise Classified,” and reporting the presence of that hazard on labeling would be optional on the part of the manufacturer of the substance being labeled.

The most severe of the aspiration hazard categories (Category 1) is accompanied by the warning label “may be fatal if swallowed and enters airways,” while Category 2 aspiration hazards carry the warning label “may be harmful if swallowed and enters airways.” Both categories refer specifically to substances that cause damage through toxicity; their effects can include chemical pneumonia, pulmonary injury, and death.

Although the concept of aspiration hazards has existed in academia and in the domain of consumer product safety for quite some time, many OHS systems lacked reference to the concept until it was implemented as part of the GHS. Implementation of the GHS by initial countries began in 2008.


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