27th January, 2022
Employers, employees and the self-employed have responsibilities under COSHH, but who is responsible for COSHH in the workplace? What about when multiple businesses or contractors work together on a project? Or if your employees work at other premises?
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations apply to all workplaces. And since nearly every workplace will use hazardous substances in one form or another, that means every business needs to understand COSHH responsibilities.
The purpose of COSHH is to reduce the risk from hazardous substances at work. And three key parties have responsibilities under the COSHH Regulations:
The employer has the overall responsibility for COSHH in the workplace. A competent person can help you, but they are still your responsibility -asking someone to help you won't change that. So you should have systems and checks in place to make sure it gets done.
As an employer, you must carry out COSHH assessments for any hazardous substances involved with your business. COSHH assessments are a legal requirement.
- 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;
Once you have assessed the hazardous substances, controls need to be in place to protect employees from exposure.
Get more details for employers in COSHH responsibilities for employers and employees.
Employees also have duties under COSHH. Your employees are not expected to assess or control exposure to hazardous substances. But they do need to be able to understand the risks and use the control measures employers provide.
Employees have a responsibility to comply with COSHH. Which includes properly using any controls measures put in place to protect them.
- Every employee shall make full and proper use of any control measure, other thing or facility provided in accordance with these Regulations [...]
However, remember, it is the employer who is responsible for COSHH. Employees have to comply with the COSHH measures that employers put in place. But the employer is responsible for providing employees with the information they need, and for putting the necessary controls and procedures in place.
Under COSHH, self-employed persons have the responsibilities of both the employer and employees (apart from monitoring and health surveillance).
Your employer responsibilities under COSHH can be straightforward to manage when you are working at your own premises. But what if you are working at remote workplaces?
You could have remote workers, visiting customers homes, or working from home themselves.
COSHH applies to every workplace, and that doesn't only apply to your business address. "Workplace" under COSHH means any premises or part of premises used for or in connection with work.
“workplace” means any premises or part of premises used for or in connection with work, and includes—
- any place within the premises to which an employee has access while at work; and
- any room, lobby, corridor, staircase, road [other than a public road] or other place—
- (i) used as a means of access to or egress from that place of work, or
- (ii) where facilities are provided for use in connection with that place of work
We recently wrote a blog post on COSHH employer responsibilities for more details on the employer duties under COSHH.
So now we know that employers are responsible for COSHH, wherever your work takes you. But what happens when your employees are working at another premises? Or if you are working on a site or project with multiple employers?
In many industries, it is common to work within other employers premises. For example, a cleaner visiting different workplaces using cleaning products, a hairdresser visiting a care home using beauty products, or a contractor completing maintenance work.
And multiple contractors often work together to complete a construction project, for example, a new build, extension or refurbishment. They will use building products that can be hazardous, like cement and paint. And construction work creates hazardous substances too, like dust and fumes.
Whatever work you do, hazardous substances covered by the COSHH regulations will likely be involved since they are present in almost all work environments.
Firstly, it is important to note that if you are a contractor, sub-contractor or self-employed you have the duties and responsibilities of an employer under the COSHH regulations. Wherever you work, you still have responsibilities to your employees and others affected by your works.
No matter where your employees are, you still need to comply with your employer responsibilities. The self-employed also have duties of both employers and employees under COSHH.
But what happens when there are two or more employers are present in a workplace or site? This situation happens all the time when businesses get contractors in for specific items of work, or two or more businesses work together on a project.
Does the occupying employer take the COSHH responsibilities as it is their premises?
Does the main contractor take the responsibilities if they are managing the works?
Does each employer take responsibility for their own employees?
Where your employees are working at other employers premises, both you and the other employer(s) have duties under the COSHH regulations. Rather than each taking responsibility for the safety of your workforces independently, you each have duties to your employees and, so far as is reasonably practicable, to the employees of the other employer(s).
To make sure that all COSHH duties are fulfilled, you should co-operate and collaborate with the other employer(s).
That means you need to work together. It doesn't mean that you are expected to manage the risks created by another employer. They have a responsibility to manage the risks of their activities and substances. Just like you need to control exposure to your employees and others, they also need to do the same for their employees (and your employees if they are likely to be affected).
It is easy to only concentrate on managing your own risks when planning your work. In terms of COSHH responsibilities, this would be just looking at the substances used or produced by your activities on site.
However, where your employees are working within occupied premises, there may be substances hazardous to health that are used or produced on the premises that you are not familiar with, particularly if you are working within industrial, manufacturing or medical premises.
When you go to new business premises to work, the occupier will likely ask you about any hazardous substances you will use. They might ask for copies of COSHH assessments and details on how you will manage the risks. But you and your employees will also need to know about any substances hazardous to health that they may be exposed to by working within the premises.
Other employers should provide you with sufficient detail to allow you to provide information and instruction to your employees so that they can comply with the control measures in place.
Remember, when you are working with other businesses, they need to know about your COSHH arrangements, and you also need to know about theirs.
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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