The control of substances that are hazardous to health is a critical area of Health and Safety management. The large number of people involved with dangerous substances, and the seriousness of the risks involved, makes COSHH an area that employers have to take seriously.
COSHH is the law that requires employers to control substances that are hazardous to health under the Regulations 2002. The objective of COSHH is to prevent, or to adequately control, exposure to substances hazardous to health, so as to prevent ill health.
Every year, thousands of workers are made ill by hazardous substances, contracting lung disease such as asthma, cancer and skin disease such as dermatitis. The COSHH Regulations require employers to assess the risk to their employees, and to prevent or adequately control those risks.
Before you start your COSHH assessment, you need to think about what do you do that involves hazardous substances, how can these cause harm and how can you reduce the risk of harm occurring?
Always try to prevent exposure at source: can you avoid using a hazardous substance or use a safer process thereby preventing exposure, can you substitute it for something safer or can you use a safer form, eg can you use a solid rather than liquid to avoid splashes or a waxy solid instead of a dry powder to avoid dust?
You can prevent or reduce workers exposure to hazardous substances by:
- finding out what the health hazards are;
- deciding how to prevent harm to health (risk assessment);
- providing control measures to reduce harm to health;
- making sure they are used ;
- keeping all control measures in good working order;
- providing information, instruction and training for employees and others;
- providing monitoring and health surveillance in appropriate cases;
- planning for emergencies.
Check your trade press and talk to employees for ideas and information. At trade meetings, ask others in your industry for ideas. If you can’t prevent exposure, you need to control it adequately by applying the principles of good control practice.
Control is adequate when the risk of harm is ‘as low as is reasonably practicable’. This means: all control measures are in good working order, exposures are below the Workplace Exposure Limit, where one exists and exposure to substances that cause cancer, asthma or genetic damage is reduced to as low a level as possible.
Most businesses use substances, or products that are mixtures of substances. Some processes create substances. These could cause harm to employees, contractors and other people. The HSE website provides information and guidance you need to keep workers safe:
- What is a hazardous substance?
- What do the new international hazard symbols look like?
- COSHH case studies
- Examples of risk assessments
- Free COSHH resources
If you are new to COSHH in the UK, the best place to start is at the HSE’s page Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH)
HSE has developed a free internet tool for identifying good control practice at www.coshh-essentials.org.uk
Contains public sector information published by the Health and Safety Executive and licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0