A COSHH assessment is a health and safety document produced for the use or production of a hazardous substance. It is a type of risk assessment carried out at work specifically to identify the hazards and assess the risks associated with substances hazardous to health. COSHH assessments are a legal requirement under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations.
- An employer shall not carry out work which is liable to expose any employees to any substance hazardous to health unless he has—
- 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; and
- implemented the steps referred to in sub-paragraph (a).
Since hazardous substances can be found in nearly every type of business, from hazardous dust to your everyday cleaning products, it is likely your workplace should have COSHH assessments in place.
A wide variety of hazardous substances need to be COSHH assessed, including chemicals, mixtures, biological agents, dust, fumes, and any other substance that creates a risk to health because of its properties and the way it is used.
Your COSHH assessment should not be a paperwork process, it should focus on assessing the risks and taking sensible steps to avoid ill-health to those workers exposed to the substance. It should tell you (and others) about the hazards and risks involved with the substance, and the actions taken to protect the health of employees and other exposed to the substance(s) used or produced in the process.
A COSHH assessment is based on information you have gathered about the substance, and will usually start with the safety data sheet provided to you by the supplier or manufacturer. Safety data sheets provide information on substances that are ‘dangerous for supply', and all substances should have instructions for safe use.
If you need help writing your COSHH assessments, you can start free with the blank COSHH assessment template.
The COSHH assessment should include important health and safety information about the substance including:
As COSHH assessments are a type of risk assessment, the process is fairly similar, in that you are looking at hazards and risks.
You should record the substance used and the type of exposure that could cause harm. People could be exposed to the substance by breathing in fumes, dust gases or mist, contact with the skin, contact with eyes, swallowing or skin puncture.
You then need to assess who is exposed to the substance, this is likely to be the employees using the substance - but other people could also be exposed. For example, workers nearby to the process may be exposed by dust or fumes that are given off during the activity, and even visitors may be at risk of short-term exposure.
It is important to consider the harm that may be caused by the substance. Some substances may cause short-term immediate effects, for example, skin burns from cement, while others will affect workers in the long term, for example, lung damage (silicosis, cancer, bronchitis) from silica dust when cutting paving slabs.
When completing your COSHH assessment you should record the control measures you have in place currently, as it is likely you have some measures in place to minimise the risk. Current control measures may include PPE used such as protective gloves and mechanical controls - water suppression, forced ventilation etc. This gives an accurate record of the risk at the time of your assessment. If you feel that the current control measures in place adequately minimise the risk, then you can assess that there is no further action required at this stage. However, if you assess that further improvements can be made to reduce the current risk level and minimise exposure, you have a legal duty to do so.
Here you will outline further control measures that you feel are practical to minimising the risk further, for example, supervision, emergency procedures, health surveillance, and training might be considered. Remember, as an employer you have a duty to control and minimise the risk 'so far as is reasonably practicable'. This does not mean you have to remove all risks, as this could never be fully achieved. However, you should take measures up to the point where any further measures would be grossly disproportionate to any remaining risk.
You should also record on your risk assessment when the substance or process should be reviewed again. You may decide that annual assessment reviews are adequate. For high-risk substances or processes that are regularly changed, you may need to review the assessment more often.