Controlling Hazardous Substances

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH)

Posted By Kerry Budworth on 2015-11-03 13:57

What You Need To Know About COSHH 

COSHH is the law that requires all employers to control any substance that are hazardous to health. In order to meet all the needs of this regulation you need to take certain steps. You can prevent or if prevention is not possible, reduce workers exposure to hazardous substances by:

  • finding out what the health hazards are in your business
  • decide how to prevent harm to health by undertaking a risk assessment
  • provide control measures to reduce any possible harm to health
  • making sure that those control measures are in fact 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.

Most businesses across industries use substances, or products that are mixtures of substances. Some industrial processes create substances. Some of these substances could cause harm to employees, contractors and other people. Sometimes substances are easily recognised as harmful. However, common substances such as paint, bleach or dust from natural materials may also be harmful to health.

What is a ‘substance hazardous to health'?

COSHH covers substances that are hazardous to health, but what exactly is a substance under the regulation? Substances can take many forms and include:

  • chemicals
  • products containing chemicals
  • fumes
  • dusts
  • vapours
  • mists
  • nanotechnology
  • gases and asphyxiating gases
  • biological agents (germs). If the packaging has any of the hazard symbols then it is classed as a hazardous substance.
  • germs that cause diseases such as leptospirosis or legionnaires disease and germs used in laboratories.

What you need to do as an employer

Before you start your COSHH assessment, you need to think about what you do in your business that involves hazardous substances? How could these substances cause harm? Finally, how can you reduce the risk of harm to your employees occurring? The key for you is to always try to prevent exposure at source. For example:

Can you avoid using a hazardous substance altogether, if not, can you use a safer process that helps prevent exposure. For example, substituting water-based rather than solvent-based products and applying that paint by brush rather than spraying?

Can you substitute it for something safer, for instance swap an irritant cleaning product for something milder, or using a vacuum cleaner rather than a brush?

Can you use a safer form of the hazardous substance such as using a solid rather than liquid to avoid splashes or a waxy solid instead of a dry powder to avoid dust?

If you can't prevent the exposure, you will 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'. For the purpose of the regulation this means:

  • All control measures are in good working order.
  • Exposures are below the Workplace Exposure Limit, where one exists.
  • Exposure to substances that cause cancer, asthma or genetic damage is reduced to as low a level as possible

COSHH assessment, Identifying hazard and assessing risk

You are probably already aware of many risks in your trade or industry. A COSHH assessment concentrates on the hazards and risks from substances used in your workplace. Remember that hazards and risks are not limited to substances labelled as ‘hazardous', dust is a hazard but people rarely think of it as so.

Steps to making a COSHH assessment:

The initial step is to walk around your workplace and observe. Ask yourself, "Where is there potential for exposure to substances that might be hazardous to health"? Are there processes that emit dust, fume, vapour, mist or gas? Is there processes that involve skin contact with liquids, pastes and dusts? Any substances with workplace exposure limits (WELs) are hazardous to health, you should also understand how the substances harmful to health?

Get safety data sheets, and read your trade magazines. Some substances arise from processes and have no safety data sheet. For instance fumes from welding or soldering, mist from metalworking, dust from quarrying, gases from silage. Look at the HSE web pages for your trade or industry.

What jobs or tasks lead to exposure?

Note down all of the jobs or tasks that may lead to exposure. Note down what control measures you already have in place. With those jobs or tasks in mind, consider how likely is any harm to workers' health? Are there any areas of concern, for example from your own Accident Book? Examples of this would include entries that pertain to burns from splashes, nausea or lightheadedness from solvents, etc.

HSE Has provided specific guidance on COSHH assessment called A step by step guide to COSHH assessment. You can apply this guide and assessment to substances hazardous to health. More detailed guidance is in the free booklet on working with substances hazardous to health. Safety data sheets provide information on substances that are ‘dangerous for supply'. Other substances should have instructions for safe use.

By law, your supplier must give you an up to date safety data sheet
for a substance that is ‘dangerous for supply'. 

You can read more about COSHH Health Surveillance here. If you are interested in learning more, looking for health & Safety services, or you are looking for help with your health and safety strategy, call us on 01455 234 600 or contact us online now. 

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