23rd November, 2021

The Purpose Of COSHH Assessments And Why Every Business Needs Them

The purpose of the COSHH regulations is to minimise the risks associated with substances that are hazardous to the health of you and your employees, therefore reducing the number of people made ill through exposure to harmful substances. Do you comply with COSHH in your business?

The Purpose Of COSHH Assessments And Why Every Business Needs Them header image

COSHH stands for the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations. Under these regulations, employers are required to control substances that are hazardous to health, through the prevention or reduction of exposure. And this includes risk assessing the substances that people might be exposed to, through a process known as COSHH assessment.

The COSHH regulations apply to every business, regardless of size or industry, so it is important to know why you need to carry out these assessments and how they can benefit you.

6.—(1) An employer shall not carry out work which is liable to expose any employees to any substance hazardous to health unless he has—

  1. made a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk created by that work to the health of those employees and of the steps that need to be taken to meet the requirements of these Regulations;[...]
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 Regulation 6

We have talked before about how COSHH assessments are a legal requirement. But other than being required by law, what purpose do they serve?

The purpose of COSHH assessments

The purpose of the COSHH regulations is to minimise the risks from substances that are hazardous to the health of you and your employees, therefore reducing the number of people made ill through exposure to harmful substances.

So COSHH assessments are here to keep people safe. How do they do that?

The COSHH assessment process involves identifying hazardous substances used within your workplace and assessing the use of these substances within your business activities.

The initial step is to find out what health hazards are associated with the substance, and how workers are exposed. For example, a hazardous substance could cause health problems like skin irritation, burns, poisoning, or even cancer. Workers could be exposed through breathing in fumes, or by direct contact with the substance (e.g. splashing) or some other way.


Once you know who and how people are exposed, you can manage the risks by deciding how to prevent harm from occurring. For example, what control measures are needed to prevent exposure? Or could the substance can be substituted for a less harmful substance?

It's working through these steps that will help you to stay safe when working with dangerous substances.

Find out more about the COSHH assessment in our blog post what is a COSHH assessment?

COSHH and your business

Does your business need to worry about COSHH? Yes, almost certainly. And that applies no matter what type of business you run.

Of course, chemical producers and labs dealing with high hazard chemicals need to be aware and have strict systems in place. Industries like construction are also aware that substances like concrete, cement, glues, paints and solvents come under COSHH.

While it might at first seem like COSHH is only going to affect industrial businesses that deal with very dangerous substances you might be surprised to find out how many businesses COSHH does apply to.

For example, hairdressers work with bleaches, hairsprays and shampoos, and beauticians work with solvents in nail varnish removers and other ingredients in beauty solutions that can cause skin allergies and asthma.

Bakers and cooks work with flour and other dust, and fumes containing oil mists, irritating substances, smoke and carbon monoxide from gas-fired equipment.

Any work that involves having your hands wet for a long time or having them frequently wet during the day can irritate your skin leading to dermatitis. So yes, even water can be hazardous to health with excessive exposure.

hands in bucket of water

Not even office work escapes, as products like printer inks, lacquers, adhesives, and cleaning solvents contain ingredients that are hazardous to health.

Every business will need to have cleaning carried out in some form or another and cleaning products can be corrosive and cause skin burns and eye damage.

And don't forget, you don't just need to worry about substances you use, but also those that you create. For example, COSHH might not apply to a piece of wood when it is purchased, but when it is drilled or sawn, wood dust is created that can be harmful and needs to be controlled.

If you need help creating a COSHH assessment, you can start with the free blank COSHH assessment template.

Getting COSHH right

A COSHH assessment in itself will not reduce risk. Only through the COSHH assessment process and putting in place suitable controls, will the risks be minimised.

Your COSHH assessment should not just be a paperwork process. Completing your COSHH assessment gives you a good idea of the hazards and risks involved with a substance, and the control measures needed, but this is of no use if those using the substance are unaware of the findings.

Putting the findings of your COSHH assessments in place is essential in the management of the risks associated with substances hazardous to health.

To do this, you need to provide the control measures outlined in the COSHH risk assessment and making sure they are used and the correct working procedure is followed by those using the substance.

Information, instruction and training may need to be provided to employees. This may include on the job training briefing workers on the COSHH assessment and the system of work in place, or further training where risks are high. Do people know how to use safety measures? You may also need to provide appropriate supervision.

Ongoing monitoring to check control measures stay in place and remain in good condition is important to ensure the COSHH assessment remains suitable and in force. Are the controls being used correctly? Do they need ongoing maintenance? Do filters need changing?

For some substances, you may need health surveillance. And you might need to plan for emergencies depending on the risks present. What if things go wrong? What should you do if someone gets exposed?

While a COSHH risk assessment is a legal requirement, an effective and proactive COSHH system will help to keep your workforce healthy. Your purpose should not only be to comply with your legal responsibilities. But also to keep your workforce safe, which will help keep your team productive by reducing lost time through illness.

If you need help writing your COSHH assessments, you can start free with the blank COSHH assessment template. Or for extra help, browse the library of ready to use COSHH assessment templates.

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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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