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 worked on. 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 whole blog post looking at the law and legal responsibilities around COSHH assessments. But COSHH assessment isn't the only thing you are required to do 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 look at just that.
We will start with employers. 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 being, to protect people from any harm that hazardous substances may cause in your workplace.
The first thing you should do as an employer is to carry out a COSHH assessment. This involves identifying the hazardous substances used or created in your work activities and assessing the risk. But as you can see, assessing the risk (carrying out your COSHH assessment) is only part of the requirements under COSHH.
Not all exposure can be prevented once you have assessed the work that exposes employees to any substance hazardous to health. 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.
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 control measure.
- 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—
- the design and use of appropriate work processes, systems and engineering controls and the provision and use of suitable work equipment and materials;
- the control of exposure at source, including adequate ventilation systems and appropriate organisational measures; and
- 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).
Your responsibilities as an employer don't stop at just providing appropriate control measures. You must also make sure that control measures are 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. Control measures are only effective if they work. Employers have a duty 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. You also need to make sure it's correctly stored, and if contaminated by hazardous substances, cleaned.
Monitoring exposure is especially important under COSHH, to make sure controls are working to limit exposure, and also because of 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.
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.
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. They 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.
Finally, while hopefully, you won't need them, you do need to have procedures in place to deal with accidents, incidents and emergencies.
What would happen if a control measure failed, or a hazardous substance was 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 what COSHH adds, is that 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 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. To make proper use of the controls provided, so you (and others) don't get harmed.
- 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—
- take all reasonable steps to ensure it is returned after use to any accommodation provided for it; and
- if he discovers a defect therein, report it forthwith to his employer.
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, and report any problems or defects so that they can be dealt with.
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.
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.