In the UK, every business needs to comply with health and safety laws, especially if they use, handle, store or generate hazardous substances within the workplace. If incorrect handling or usage happens this could result in physical injury and/or cause health problems to the workforce.
Why is COSHH important?
What is COSHH?
COSHH sets out a hierarchy of control measures to protect people’s health arising from immediate or delayed exposure to hazardous substances used in or generated from workplace practices.
These substances can include:
- biological agents (fungi, bacteria, viruses);
- natural substances (grain, flour, enzyme dusts, etc.);
- substances generated by work (e.g. welding fumes or wood dust);
- chemical products used or produced at work (e.g. adhesives or cleaning agents).
This topic page focuses on the risk of illness and disease as a consequence of contact with hazardous substances via skin, inhalation or ingestion. For guidance on fire and explosion hazards refer to:
Key actions for the safe control and management of hazardous substances
- Identify what hazards there are within the workplace and activities
- Decide on how to prevent them by a competent person undertaking a risk assessment
- Implement any necessary control measures to reduce exposure and ensure they are properly utilised which will involve informing, instructing and training employees about the risks and any necessary precautions that they need to take to work safely
- Regularly review the assessment and maintain control measures and ensure that any statutory inspections are completed for example, local exhaust ventilation (LEV)
- Provide monitoring and health surveillance (if required)
- Plan for emergencies such as fire, leaks or spillages or the sudden release or the failure of LEV
Around 500 hazardous substances have been assigned Workplace Exposure Limits (WELs) by HSE. WELs are intended to prevent excessive exposure to the substances by containing the exposure to below the specified limit. These are primarily set for airborne substances and can be either a short term limit or long term over an 8 hour day. The HSE publication EH40/2005 sets out these limits and is reviewed annually.
As part of the assessment process you should involve your employees as they may notice things that are not obvious and may have some ideas on how to control the risks.
How to minimise the risk once it’s identified
The eight principles of COSHH
2. Take into account all relevant routes of exposure (inhilation, skin absorption and ingestions) when developing control measures.
3. Control exposure by measures that are proportionate to the health risk.
4. Choose the most effective and reliable control options which minimise the escape and spread of substances hazardous to health.
Health Surveillance is necessary where have substances with known health effects or disease and there is a reasonable likelihood of the effect or disease occurring.
Additionally undertaking these checks will help to detect as early as possible any adverse changes and ensure that can prevent a more serious disease from developing and ensures that control measures are working effectively.
Health surveillance may necessitate medical surveillance by occupational health provider or can be undertaken by an appropriately trained employee, depending upon the nature of the substance.