25th November, 2013
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations are a well known set of regulations, however many workplaces fail to adequately assess the risks from exposure to hazardous substances.
Why is this?
Well often because the hazardous substances are not what we would class as dangerous chemicals, a sniff or a splash is not going to lead to instant death, and the substances are part of every day use.
In short, the risks are overlooked.
But what could be the consequences of overlooking these regulations?
Firstly, and most obviously, failing to assess the risks from hazardous substances in the workplace is a breach of the regulations that could lead to enforcement action.
The regulations are in force to protect workers from the effects of exposure to hazardous substances. So if you fail to assess and control the risks your workforce could suffer as a consequence.
Common hazardous substances on construction sites can include fuels, cement, paints and cleaning substances.
These substances are in use regularly and without much alarm.
But the above substances should all be COSHH assessed, and exposure controlled to minimise the risk to employees that use them.
For example, cement is common building material used by trades across the construction industry.
But it is also a hazardous substance.
Short term exposure to cement can lead to irritant dermatitis. The cement particles, often mixed with aggregates, abrade the skin causing irritation.
Long term skin exposure to cement can result in dermatitis, which over time can become extremely painful. Once the skin has become sensitised any further exposure can result in severe outbreaks and worsening of the condition.
As with all hazardous substances, a COSHH assessment should be undertaken, and this should be based on the activity and the people at risk.
Appropriate controls should then be implemented to minimise exposure, and control the risks.
For example, providing welfare facilities, enforcing good hygiene practice, using barrier creams and wearing suitable clothing can all help to protect the skin from exposure to cement particles.
How to avoid COSHH failures?
Identify the hazardous substances used within your workplace.
Keep a COSHH register for any substances hazardous to health and make sure data sheets and COSHH assessments are carried out for these substances and adequate control measures are in place.
Need help with COSHH? Start your COSHH register today by downloading our free template to help you identify the hazardous substances in use, and download COSHH assessment templates for your work activities.