What is COSHH?Ryan White
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) is a series of regulations designed to help employers protect employees and the wider public against the effects of chemicals, fumes, dusts, vapours and much more. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 outlines the legal responsibilities of employers and workplaces responsible for potentially-dangerous materials, ensuring that sufficient protection against ill-effects is provided and suitable emergency response equipment is made available.
COSHH was developed by the Health and Safety Executive as part of the Government’s push to ensure safe working conditions are provided for every worker in the UK. The regulations are applicable to most businesses and places of work in the UK, from small offices to large pharmaceutical plants, and the regulations cover a huge range of substances, even common chemicals such as paint or bleach. Industry-specific guidelines are provided by the HSE to simplify the practice of ensuring all employees are protected against the effects of hazardous materials.
The Basics of COSHH
Adhering to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Heath regulations can be incredibly simple, provided you follow a few steps carefully. The all-important first step of the process is to identify the health hazards within the workplace during a risk assessment. If any hazards are present, it is the employer’s responsibility to determine an effective method to prevent harm to health by implementing control methods – these could either be best practice incentives or physical protection measures.
Beyond the implementation of these measures, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that all practices continue to be observed, and all physical measures remain in good working order. Failure to upkeep these measures could compromise the welfare of the employees and could lead to legal repercussions. Fines in the tens of thousands of pounds can be handed out to companies found to be compromising the welfare of their employees and the wider public
Furthermore, full and continuous training must be supplied to all relevant employees, and emergency plans must be provided to protect against the effects of mishaps.
Which Substances are ‘Hazardous to Health’?
Although the exact number of substances which could prove hazardous to health is far too large for us to list here, they can take many forms, including: chemicals, fumes, dusts, vapours, mists, gases, biological agents and nanotechnology.
To complete a comprehensive COSHH assessment, it is important that business owners consider all of the potentially-hazardous substances in the workplace, how these cause harm and how these risks can be reduced.
There are a number of substances which are not covered by COSHH, these include lead, asbestos and radioactive substances. Each of these have their own specific regulations which must be adhered to by workplaces where they are present.
What Steps Should I Take?
HSE has produced A Step by Step Guide to COSHH Assessment, which can be downloaded for free or physically purchased for £8.95 – detailing all responsibilities to adhere to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.
But the basic steps undertaken by all responsible parties are:
Observing the workplace for potential hazards and harmful substances. Walk around the workplace, checking every substance used, and every process which causes a reaction. To determine how hazardous these substances and reactions may be, consult the HSE’s guidance by industry page.
Identify the personal who may be at risk of exposure to these substances, providing them with requisite training and protection to maintain their wellbeing.
Perhaps the most effective and most efficient method to ensure the safety of the workforce is to prevent exposure to substances hazardous to health at their source. For example, consider whether it is possible to completely avoid using the hazardous substance or implement a safer procedure. This is particularly effective for substances hazardous to health which are not central to the workplace’s core output – for example, replacing hazardous cleaning products with non-hazardous alternatives.
To effectively substitute a hazardous substance for a safer alternative, follow these seven steps:
- Determine whether the original substance or process represents a hazard.
- Identify potential alternative.
- Consider potential repercussions of using the alternative.
- Compare all options.
- Decide upon the safest option.
- Introduce the substituted option.
- Assess and measure its efficacy and safety.
Try to speak to other members of the industry to identify possible alternatives and safe options if you are struggling to find your own.
Understanding COSHH Exposure Limits
Some substances can be harmful, but only when exposure exceeds a certain limit level. To fully understand whether the substances in the workplace exceed the workplace exposure limits, read the HSE guide.
Exposure can take a number of different routes — via breathing, skin contact, injection and swallowing. It is perhaps most important to understand the exposure limits of substances which can be inhaled, as these are the most difficult to measure and monitor.
Personal Protective Equipment
If any harmful substances and risks are present in the workplace, it is vital that the team is provided with sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure their safety and wellbeing. PPE can take many forms, specific to the types of risk — from protective clothing to breathing apparatus.
The main forms of PPE are:
- Protective Gloves
- Protective Clothing
- Protective Footwear
- Eye Protection
When considering implementing PPE into the workplace, it is important to make the following considerations:
Will the form(s) of PPE be suitable to conditions of the job, the workplace and the individual? Will it offer sufficient protection whilst enabling the individual to carry out the necessary tasks to the fullest of their ability in a safe manner?
What training is required to ensure the individual can safely and sufficiently utilise the PPE? Without comprehensive training, employees may not correctly utilise the PPE, rendering it completely useless.
Does the PPE fit correctly, without inhibiting performance or comfort? It is vital that the individual is considered, ensuring they can complete all tasks safely and effectively. Also, consider whether the PPE may introduce other health risks, as this could offset any benefits of implementation in the first place.
Will it require any maintenance or replacements? PPE can often take a battering, so may suffer as a consequence. It is important to monitor the PPE, ensuring that it is always fully functional and working at the optimum level – replacing any faulty or worn-down items.
Training and Monitoring
Without full and correct training, COSHH practices could be rendered completely ineffective. All affected team members must be instructed about the hazards and the risks, including the potential personal results of not following training and safety procedures.
Training can be provided by local colleges, trade associations and consultants amongst others, and full paperwork should be kept at all times. All contractors and visitors to the workplace should also be provided with sufficient training and knowledge of how to operate safely on the site.
Continuous training updates and monitoring should be provided to the whole team, reducing the risk of lapses or poor practices becoming commonplace.
With a fully-trained team, and a safety-optimised workplace, it’s easier to operate in an effective and efficient manner, without compromising the welfare of the team or the wider public.
InterFocus can help you create a safety-conscious commercial laboratory, or implement new safety features to protect the team. For more information about how we can help you, visit our homepage or call our dedicated team of 01223 894833.