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26th November, 2018

What Substances Does COSHH Cover?

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations requires you to control substances that are hazardous to health within your organisation. But what substances does COSHH cover?

Hazardous Substances

The COSHH regulations cover substances that are hazardous to health. If a substance, in any form, could cause harm to a person, then it will need to be assessed under the COSHH regulations. The hazardous substances covered by COSHH include:

  • Chemicals
  • Products containing chemicals
  • Fumes
  • Vapours
  • Mist
  • Dust
  • Gases
  • Nanotechnology
  • Biological agents
  • Germs that cause diseases

Some very hazardous substances such as asbestos, lead and radioactive substances are covered under their own regulations. While these are classified as hazardous substances, they don't come under COSHH as more specific requirements are needed. Other than these special exclusions, all hazardous substances are covered by COSHH.

“hazard”, in relation to a substance, means the intrinsic property of that substance which has the potential to cause harm to the health of a person, and “hazardous” shall be construed accordingly;

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002

The COSHH regulations apply to a wide range of substances and mixtures, including those classified as toxic and harmful, those given a workplace exposure limit (WEL), any biological agents, hazardous dust and any dust when present in hazardous quantities, and any other substance where the way it is used or is present at the workplace creates a risk to health.

It's important to assess your work and identify which substances could harm your health, you might be surprised. For example, in some workplaces, even water can come under COSHH. Yes, water! It's not a hazardous substance, but if your work means having your hands wet for a long time or having them frequently wet during the day, this can irritate your skin leading to dermatitis.

You can find out more about COSHH in our blog post why COSHH is important in your workplace.

Identifying Hazardous Substances

The first step in becoming COSHH compliant is to identify the substances used or produced within your business processes. Some hazardous substances used within your business will be obvious, but some everyday substances should also be assessed under COSHH.

Where substances are purchased, you can check the safety information on labels and the information provided by suppliers (usually on a safety data sheet, hazard data sheet or other similar product information sheet). You should request this information from suppliers whenever a new substance is used, as the sheet will contain important information relating to storage, use and the properties of the product. Risk and safety phrases will give you a good indication of the ways in which the substance could be harmful to you and your team.

Some substances might not be purchased from a supplier, but may be produced as a result of your work processes. For example, the wood dust produced in a joinery workshop or on a construction site should be assessed under the COSHH regulations. Hardwood dust is classified as a carcinogen (can cause cancer), so is covered by COSHH, and it is important that exposure is minimised and monitored.

To identify substances produced during work processes, carry out a COSHH inspection. Walk around your workplace and look for processes that could produce dust, fumes, vapours, mist or gas, and where skin comes into contact with liquids, pastes and powder. Your existing knowledge and the knowledge of those you employ to carry out and supervise your business activities should also be used in substance identification. You and your team have specific knowledge of the process and industry experience, and this can be used to help minimise the risks from substances in your workplace.

You can also look for areas of concern from health surveillance, staff complaints and the accident book. Any reports of skin burns, dermatitis, nausea or light-headedness from solvents etc should be looked into.

Industry knowledge from trade press and data, professional bodies, associations, publications, best practice and HSE guidance material can be used to supplement your in-house knowledge and supplier data.

When finding which substances you use and produce by your work covered by COSHH, remember to look for:

  • Labels
  • Hazard symbols
  • Safety data sheets
  • Workplace exposure limits (WELs)
  • Supplier data
  • Manufacturer data
  • Trade information
  • HSE guidance
  • Employee data
  • Health surveillance

Once you have identified the substances that are hazardous to health within your workplace, you can then create a COSHH inventory and carry out the required COSHH assessments to minimise the risk and control exposure.


If you need help writing your COSHH assessments, you can start free with the blank COSHH assessment template, or 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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