24th June, 2020
COSHH is a law that requires employers to control substances that are hazardous to health. Most business use substances that are hazardous to health, from cleaning chemicals to creating gases, dust and vapours, so the COSHH regulations will affect some aspects of most businesses.
COSHH stands for the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations. COSHH is a piece of UK legislation that applies to all uses of hazardous substances at work. In a nutshell, COSHH requires employers to control substances that are hazardous to health.
And because hazardous substances can be found in most businesses, COSHH is something that most employers need to know about. You might not think that the substances you use at work are harmful. But they could be. Cleaning chemicals. Inks. Paints. Soaps. Dyes. Fuels. Engine fumes. Lots of substances we use regularly in life fall under COSHH when used at work.
Even the self-employed need to be aware of COSHH. The COSHH regulations apply, even if you have no employees (apart from the sections of monitoring and health surveillance). If you do have employees, then the regulations apply in full.
So COSHH applies to all workplaces. And to all substances that are hazardous to health. What are substances that are hazardous to health?
High-risk chemicals and toxic gases are easily recognised as hazardous. But they are not the only substances to be aware of. Common substances such as paint, bleach, cleaning substances, inks, sprays or dust from natural materials may also be harmful.
A hazardous substance can be any substance, whether solid, liquid or gas, that may cause harm to health, including:
And COSHH doesn't just apply to the substances you use, but also the ones you produce. Fumes and dust could be created as part of your work process. Or you might mix two substances together, creating a new substance, with different hazards.
So how do you know if a substance is hazardous? Well, there are a few ways to check. You might notice a little red diamond on its container.
There are 9 different types of these pictograms, and you may find one or more of them on bottles and packaging of substances you use in your workplace. These symbols indicate that a substance is hazardous. You can find out more in The 9 COSHH Hazard Symbols (Meanings And What They Look Like).
Or, it may be assigned a workplace exposure limit (WEL) by the HSE. You can find out more about workplace exposure limits in our blog post COSHH Workplace Exposure Limits (WELs) Explained.
With the substances you produce, you might identify these from a review of your work processes, or during a risk assessment. Or you might notice a dusty atmosphere or a funny smell. These are signs that a hazardous substance could be present.
Find out more about identifying hazardous substances in What Substances Does COSHH Cover?
Now you know that COSHH applies, how can you make sure you are complying with the law and protecting your team from harm? Well, COSHH is all about identifying and controlling the risks that hazardous substances present. And all substances are different. Harm to health may happen suddenly (acute), such as dizziness, nausea and itchy eyes or skin. And then it is pretty obvious that you need to act quickly, and work conditions can become difficult for those exposed. But it can also happen gradually over years (chronic), such as dermatitis or cancer. This is just as serious and often irreversible, so it's important to act quickly, but it might not be as obvious when harm is happening.
The first step with any hazardous substance then - is to assess the risk. What harm could it cause? Who is exposed? How long are they exposed? How can exposure be eliminated or reduced? How can the work be completed safely? This is what's known as a COSHH assessment.
If you're not sure what a COSHH assessment is, or how to complete one, we've got you covered. Find out more in What Is A COSHH Assessment?
Remember, where a substance is hazardous to health in any form*, the COSHH regulations apply. ** some substances and materials such as asbestos, lead and radioactive substances have their own specific regulations.*
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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