17th October, 2023

COSHH Responsibilities For Employers And Employees

Employers and employees have several important COSHH duties to protect their own and others' health from work with hazardous substances. These COSHH responsibilities are a legal requirement, let's take a look at what employers and employees need to do.

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Hazardous substances can be found in most workplaces - from cleaning solutions to toxic chemicals. Even everyday materials that appear harmless, like wood and bricks, can become harmful when they are worked on.

Wood dust can cause asthma, and some types can cause cancer.

Brick dust contains harmful silica, which can be deadly decades after exposure.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations apply to all types of businesses. It's important to be aware of the responsibilities placed on both employers and employees. After all, it's the law.

When you think about COSHH, the first thing that may come to mind is COSHH assessments. And we have a blog post looking at the law and legal responsibilities around COSHH assessments.

But COSHH assessment isn't the only legal responsibility under COSHH.

Regulations 6 to 13 cover employer and employee responsibilities under COSHH, and COSHH assessment is only number 6. When it comes to your duties under COSHH, there are another 7 regulations you need to know about!

So what do regulations 7 - 13 require you to do?

In this post, we're going to look at just that.

Who is responsible for COSHH?

The employer is ultimately responsible for COSHH within the workplace.

They are responsible for making sure the business complies with COSHH requirements. And if it doesn't - they are to blame.

The employer might not be an expert in COSHH. So they might need to be assisted by a competent person. And they may not do all the COSHH assessments and controls themselves.

But the employer is overall responsible for COSHH. Not just for reducing the risks from hazardous substances, and controlling the use of hazardous substances, but also for training employees. Because they have COSHH resposibilities too.

So let's start with employer responsibilities.

Employers COSHH responsibilities

If you're an employer, you need to know about COSHH. Not just to comply with your duties, but also to train your staff in their duties.

Employers have many legal health and safety responsibilities. But it all boils down to one thing - protecting people.

Employers' responsibilities under COSHH are no different. The key purpose is, to protect people from any harm that hazardous substances may cause in your workplace.

Assess the risk

The first thing you should do as an employer is to carry out a COSHH assessment. COSHH assessments are a legal requirement and involve identifying the hazardous substances used or created in your work activities and assessing the risk.

But assessing the risk (carrying out your COSHH assessment) is only part of the requirements under COSHH.

Prevent or control exposure

You might not be able to assess the risk and prevent all exposure to hazardous substances. For example, you might not be able to stop working with wood if you're a carpenter. And you might not be able to completely eliminate chemicals if you're a cleaner.

So if you can't completely prevent exposure, then you need to protect your employees by controlling it. You may be able to substitute some of the solutions you use for less hazardous ones, but you would still need to deal with the remaining (or residual) risk.

ppe gloves

As an employer, you shouldn't just look at the use of the substance, but everything from handling and transport to storage and waste disposal. PPE (personal protective equipment) might seem like an obvious option, but it should never be your first or only COSHH control measure.

  1. Where it is not reasonably practicable to prevent exposure to a substance hazardous to health, the employer shall comply with his duty of control under paragraph (1) by applying protection measures appropriate to the activity and consistent with the risk assessment, including, in order of priority—
  1. the design and use of appropriate work processes, systems and engineering controls and the provision and use of suitable work equipment and materials;
  2. the control of exposure at source, including adequate ventilation systems and appropriate organisational measures; and
  3. where adequate control of exposure cannot be achieved by other means, the provision of suitable personal protective equipment in addition to the measures required by sub-paragraphs (a) and (b).

Ensure control measures are properly used

Your responsibilities as an employer don't stop at just providing appropriate control measures. You must also make sure that your COSHH control measures are used correctly.

You've put these control measures in place, but they are no good if they are not used - or not used correctly.

For example, it's not good enough to just provide goggles where there is a risk of splashing, you must ensure that they are worn. If workers wear them around their necks or don't wear them at all, then hazardous substances could still splash into their eyes - even though you provided goggles.

Control measures are only effective if they work and get used.

worker putting gloves on

Maintain control measures

Now you have put controls in place and made sure they get used. But wait, there's more to do!

Employers have a responsibility under COSHH to make sure that control measures are maintained.

Some controls, like ventilation, need to be regularly inspected and tested, to make sure they are working correctly. Other controls may become damaged and need replacing over time, especially portable controls like personal respirators and gloves.

Speaking of PPE, your employer duties don't stop at just providing it and making sure workers use it. You also need to make sure it's correctly stored - this will help reduce damage and loss, and replacement costs. If it gets contaminated by hazardous substances, it will need cleaning too.

gloves thumbs up

Monitor exposure

Monitoring exposure is especially important under COSHH, to make sure controls are working to limit exposure, and also because of workplace exposure limits.

Many COSHH substances have workplace exposure limits (WELs). These limits are the legal maximum exposure, and as an employer, you must make sure employees stay under these limits.

Where monitoring is required, it should be done at regular intervals and records kept.

Use suitable health surveillance

Health surveillance isn't always required, but employers do have a responsibility under COSHH to provide it where appropriate. This could be because the substance is specifically listed* as requiring surveillance under COSHH, or because an identifiable disease or adverse health effect may be related to the exposure.

*Substances specifically listed as requiring health surveillance under COSHH are detailed in Schedule 6 of the regulations and include:

Give information instruction and training

As an employer, you must also provide information, instruction and training to employees. It's not enough to know about COSHH yourself. Employees need to know about the substances used or produced, the risks they are exposed to, and how they are being protected.

Employees may need training on the procedures and control measures in place, and how to use them correctly.

12.—(1) Every employer who undertakes work which is liable to expose an employee to a substance hazardous to health shall provide that employee with suitable and sufficient information, instruction and training.

Put in place procedures for accidents, incidents and emergencies

Finally, while hopefully, you won't need them, you do need to have procedures in place to deal with accidents, incidents and emergencies.

emergency siren

What would happen if a control measure failed, a hazardous substance leaked, or a fire broke out in the storage area?

Accidents, incidents and emergencies can happen, and when hazardous substances are involved, it can make matters worse. Fumes, flammable substances, explosions, gases under pressure - what's the worse that could happen in any given situation?

As an employer, you have a responsibility to plan for emergencies and make sure that procedures are in place to deal with any such events and minimise the possible effects.

You need to have things like first aid provision and safety drills in place anyway, as part of your health and safety management - this isn't specific to COSHH. But when you add COSHH to those arrangements, you need to consider the additional risks presented by hazardous substances.

You may need extra controls like spill kits, or respiratory protection, in the case of an emergency or accident involving a hazardous substance.

Employees COSHH responsibilities

Employees also have legal health and safety responsibilities.

Essentially, employees must take reasonable care of themselves and others. Employees' responsibilities under COSHH follow the same path. Make proper use of the controls provided, so you (and others) don't get harmed.

Properly use control measures

  1. Every employee shall make full and proper use of any control measure, other thing or facility provided in accordance with these Regulations [...]

As an employee, you should be given information about what hazardous substances you are exposed to at work, and the control measures in place, by your employer. Your responsibility is to properly use those control measures.

That means using it how it's supposed to be used, and returning things to safe storage when you are done.

COSHH control measures are there for your protection, so use them!

using a spray with gloves

Report any defects discovered

If you notice any problems with the control measures provided, like your PPE or enclosures or ventilation systems - that could mean that the control measure is no longer working as it should be.

And that could mean you are no longer protected as you should be.

So stop work and report it.

Get it checked out and any issues resolved and made safe for you and your team.

  1. Every employee shall make full and proper use of any control measure, other thing or facility provided in accordance with these Regulations and, where relevant, shall—
  1. take all reasonable steps to ensure it is returned after use to any accommodation provided for it; and
  2. if he discovers a defect therein, report it forthwith to his employer.

Attend health surveillance as required during working hours

Not every employee will need health surveillance. If you do, your employer should let you know.

Health surveillance will be carried out during working hours, and you will need to attend.

Report accidents or incidents

Finally, you should report "any accident or incident which has or may have resulted in the release of a biological agent which could cause severe human disease" to your employer or person in charge.

This will trigger accident and emergency procedures that are in place to protect you and others.

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.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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