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Code numbering

A range of products have to have a code number. This is applicable to paints, but also to other products such as wood preservatives, adhesives and sealants. The code number appears either on the packaging or in the supplier’s usage instructions.


You must use the code number to select the correct product (as a starting point, choose products with the lowest possible code number) and to decide which safety arrangements – e.g. personal protective equipment – you must use.

This code number consists of two digits linked with a hyphen. The codes run from 00-1 to 5-6.

The digit before the hyphen is used to establish safety arrangements which may prevent inhalation of vapours, including vapours from organic solvents.
The higher the digit before the hyphen, the greater the need to use respiratory protection and process ventilation to provide protection against the risk of inhalation. Aqueous paints typically have a code number of 00-1 (1993). Alkyd paints with mineral turpentine typically have a code number of 2-1 (1993). Products based on xylene as a solvent typically have a code number of 4-3 (1993).

The digit after the hyphen is used to establish safety arrangements which may prevent contact with the skin and eyes, inhalation of drops, dust from spray mist and any ingestion, e.g. by smoking or eating.

  • - 1 means that there is a risk when inhaling spray mist or in the event of longer-term contamination.
  • – 2 means that there is a risk when taking in and inhaling spray dust.
  • – 3 means that there is a risk of irritation or potential allergy.
  • – 4 means that there is a risk of corrosion.
  • – 5 means that there is a major risk of allergy.
  • – 6 means that the product is toxic or that there is a risk of cancer.

Essentially the higher the digit, the greater the hazard. A substance coded 5-6 is the most harmful to health.

A paint product coded 00-1 is the least hazardous product that can be produced at the moment in purely technical terms.

Use of code numbers

Code labelling can help to determine what personal protective equipment is to be used. The Working Environment Authority has diagrams in which you can see what protective equipment is to be used. This is dependent on code labelling, large or small surfaces and the application method.

An example:


  1. Paint is to be applied inside an iron structure which is subject to major stresses and major functional requirements.
  2. A paint coded 2-1 may be used.
  3. The paint is applied with a brush or roller, and large surfaces are painted.

From this diagram, you can see that you have to use at least a half mask with an air supply, and gloves as well in case of splashes.

In case of doubt

If you are in doubt or are faced with a borderline case, you must always select the most effective protection.

The designation “small surfaces” covers door frames, skirting boards, pipes and similar which may be no more than 10% of the total surface area in the room, and together they must total no more than 4 m2.

If the temperature in the room or on surfaces (e.g. radiators) is above normal room temperature, the digit before the hyphen in the code number is increased by 1.