COSHH assessments are important documents for nearly every business. Carrying out a COSHH assessment is a legal requirement under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations. So you need to write suitable COSHH assessments to comply.
Most businesses use or create hazardous substances in one form or another. Cleaning solutions, dust from drilling, mixing paints, fumes from exhausts, fuel, chemicals, biological hazards, they all come under COSHH.
To follow along with this guide, you can use the free blank COSHH assessment template, or create your own.
There are several steps to completing a COSHH assessment form. You should follow these in order, as each stage leads to the next.
Your first step should be to identify hazardous substances used or produced within your business activities. These are substances you need to control under the COSHH regulations. Identifying where you use or create hazardous substances highlights the activities you should be assessing.
Often substances are supplied to you, so you can look at the type of chemicals, liquids and solutions you buy. The COSHH regulations also apply to substances you create during your work, like dust, fumes and gases. If you mix substances together, you need to assess the combined risk as part of your COSHH assessment.
Here are some more details of substances covered by COSHH and how to identify them.
Once you have identified the hazardous substance(s) you need to assess, you can gather safety information. If a substance is supplied to you, you should be able to get a copy of the safety data sheet. Usually, material safety data sheets (MSDS) are provided by your supplier. You can also often download them from the manufacturer's website. If you can't find it request a copy from your supplier.
The safety data sheet is a valuable source of safety information. It contains information on known hazards and classifications of the material or substance. It covers safe handling procedures, storage information, and advice. Much of this information can help in developing your COSHH assessment. It shouldn't replace your COSHH assessment but used alongside it. The safety data sheet is generic advice for the substance. It will cover specific risks your workers are exposed to in your particular use of the substance.
Finally, you can start actually completing the COSHH assessment form. The first two steps might seem to make things take a little longer, but having the right information to hand before you start your COSHH assessment will speed up the next stages.
Start by completing the header section. This tells people the substance being assessed and what you use it for (the activity or task).
In the header section of the assessment, you should record the hazardous substance(s) used or produced, for example, cement. Also what you use it for, e.g. mixing mortar, and the duration of the task, for example, 1 hour per day.
Substance: Cement Date: 7th Jan 2019 Task: Mixing of mortar, concrete etc Duration: 2 hours Reference: COSHH001
In the next section, you should outline the risks people are exposed to when using, or coming into contact with the substance. Don't forget to consider not only those involved in the activity but also adjacent workers and members of the public. Your assessment needs to consider anyone that could come into contact with the substance.
If the substance has a classification symbol assigned to it, make sure you include that on your COSHH assessment. You can find this out from the packaging or the safety data sheet. If a substance is explosive, or toxic for example, it will have a symbol. This will help people using the substance quickly identify the risk.
Find out more about COSHH chemical hazard symbols and their meanings.
Think about the routes of exposure. For example, a substance may be hazardous to skin from touch, or to the respiratory system through inhalation. How could the substance harm someone?
Once you know the routes of exposure, you can start to think about the controls needed, and what PPE is required to protect users.
The purpose of your COSHH assessment is to prevent exposure. But we must always plan for emergencies. If contact happens, quick action is vital, especially with high-hazard substances. People need to know what the correct first aid measures are.
Consider the types of first aid needed if your control measures fail. For example, the action required for skin contact will be different to inhalation. The safety data sheet or industry guidance will outline recommended first aid advice. Consider if this applies to your activity and add appropriate advice to your assessment.
Remember to provide for any first measures on-site. For example, if you instruct that 'on contact with skin wash with soap, specialist hand cleaner and water', you need to make sure that the soap, hand cleaner and water is available on site should it be needed.
Injury Advice Skin For dry cement, remove and rinse abundantly with water.
For wet cement, wash skin with water. Remove contaminated clothing, footwear, watches, etc, and clean thoroughly before re-using them.
Seek medical treatment in all cases of irritation or burns.
Control measures are the steps you take to control the hazards presented by the substance. This could be eliminating the use of the substance or substituting it for a low hazard alternative. More often, this will be putting in place actions, procedures and safety equipment to protect users of the substance and others who may be exposed.
Find out more about the best control measures and the hierarchy of controls.
In the controls section, you should look at what you are doing already to protect your workforce. Then assess what extra control measures could improve safety. For example, when cutting paving you might already use water for dust suppression and dust masks to protect from the health risks of breathing in silica dust. You could also provide goggles to protect eyes and P3 respirators to give better respiratory protection.
You need to reduce the risks associated with exposure to the substance so far as is reasonably practicable to comply with the COSHH regulations. A combination of controls is often the best defence, don't only rely on PPE.
Once you have completed your COSHH assessment, remember to monitor the process and make sure that your controls work. Your assessment should be regularly reviewed. If you identify improvements, have an accident or change the process, you should update your assessment. Decide on a suitable time frame to review the assessment. Depending on the risks involved, this may be annually or more often for high-risk substances.
Need help completing your COSHH assessments? Browse the library of pre-completed and ready to use COSHH assessment templates.