23rd August, 2022

What Is COSHH And Why Is It Important In Your Workplace?

COSHH stands for The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations. Is COSHH important in your workplace? Yes! Some businesses use more hazardous substances than others, but almost every workplace has exposure to a hazardous substance in some form or another.

What Is COSHH And Why Is It Important In Your Workplace? header image

In this post, we will introduce COSHH, why we need COSHH, how it applies to every business, and why it is important in your workplace.

What is COSHH?

COSHH stands for the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations. It's a bit of a mouthful, so that's why almost everyone refers to this set of regulations and their requirements as COSHH.

As you may have guessed, since COSHH refers to a set of regulations, it's a legal requirement. Your business must comply with COSHH, by law.

The regulations place COSHH responsibilities on both employers and employees (but mostly on employers) for dealing with hazardous substances at work.

These COSHH duties include to:

Find more information in COSHH Responsibilities For Employers And Employees.

But why do you have these duties, and why do we need COSHH?

Why do we have COSHH regulations?

COSHH was first introduced in 1988 as a specific regulation applying to hazardous substances. Employers already had responsibilities to protect people from harm, but the COSHH regulations gave specific instructions on how to do this for hazardous substances.

The main purpose of COSHH in the workplace is to manage the risks to health that are generated from hazardous substances. The regulations are designed to make you consider the health effects that a substance might have, not just in the short-term, but also in the long term.

There are thousands of different substance products used by people at work. Some of these substances are hazardous to health and can vary in risk from mild irritation to toxic or carcinogenic.

COSHH introduced additional requirements for the control of exposure, health surveillance, exposure limits and COSHH assessments (a type of risk assessment specific to substances hazardous to health).

spray bottle

Why do we need COSHH?

Risk assessments are not a new concept, but the COSHH regulations were a chance to address the health hazards that are often unique to hazardous substances.

Hazardous substances are more likely to get missed in a general risk assessment because the risks are often unseen (fumes and vapours) and take time to harm people (through regular ongoing exposure rather than an immediate safety issue).

COSHH addresses the specific hazards that apply to substances, for example, routes of exposure, and the specific types of controls needed, for example, ventilation systems.

For substances with a very high health risk, COSHH sets legal exposure limits. Because otherwise, people could develop all sorts of nasty and irreversible health problems, like lung conditions, cancer and even death.

There are currently around 500 hazardous substances with workplace exposure limits set under COSHH, but this is only a small proportion of the substances that COSHH applies to.

Many thousands of substances are used at work but only about 500 substances have Workplace Exposure Limits (WELs) listed in EH40 workplace exposure limits.

The COSHH regulations place duties on employers, the self-employed and employees for hazardous substances in the workplace.

Why is COSHH important to you and your workplace?

As an employer, COSHH puts the responsibility on you to protect your employees from the risks of exposure to hazardous substances.

If you're wondering if COSHH is important in your workplace, the answer is almost certainly yes. It's important because:

Of course, some businesses use more hazardous substances than others, but almost every workplace will use, create or have exposure to a hazardous substance in some form or another.

This could be anything from cleaning products, solvents, paints, sprays, beauty products, industrial products, varnishes, solutions, exhaust fumes, wood dust, flour dust, other dust... the list goes on.

One of the main requirements of the COSHH regulations is to carry out a COSHH risk assessment for hazardous substances used within your workplace. There are two main goals of a COSHH assessment. Firstly, finding out what the hazards are, and secondly, deciding what to do about them.

Assessing risk is important because until you know what hazards you face, you can't control them.

Need help creating COSHH assessments? Start with the free blank COSHH assessment template or browse our ready to use COSHH assessments.

So how do you go about finding out what the COSHH situation is in your organisation?

hands in bucket with sponge

As a starting point, you need to identify the hazardous substances used or created in your business. Once these substances are identified you can put together a COSHH register so that you can easily access the information on each substance.

Once you have identified the hazardous substances, you can assess them, considering the health hazards, who is likely to be exposed and how, and what currently happens to control the risks.

Based on your assessment, you then need to decide what COSHH control measures are necessary to protect the people that could be exposed to the substance.

Control measures are important because this is how you will reduce risk, and keep people safe.

You may be able to eliminate the risk and prevent exposure by substituting the substance for a harmless or less harmful substance. This will not always be possible, and you will, therefore, have to consider which control measures will be appropriate to reduce the risks and comply with the regulations.

Here are 7 types of COSHH control measures and how they reduce risk.

To keep your workforce safe, it's important to monitor control measures to make sure they are used correctly. You might need to provide extra training, or make improvements/changes if required.

When deciding what to do to control a substance within your organisation, don't forget to plan for emergencies and put adequate health surveillance in place if required.

As an employer, you must reduce the risks as far as is reasonably practicable. This does not mean eliminating all risks, but it does mean assessing the risks and putting adequate control measures in place to reduce those risks as far as you can reasonably be expected to do so.

If you comply with COSHH, your business benefits by:

What happens if you fail to comply with COSHH?

If you don't follow the requirements of the COSHH regulations, you are breaking the law. But a fine or prosecution from the HSE could be the least of your worries.

Hazardous substances don't come with warnings for no reason. Some hazarous substances will even have a special hazard symbol to alert you to their danger.

A hazardous substances could be toxic, corrosive, or have other health hazards. That could be life-chaging or even life-ending for the person exposed.

A hazarous substance could be explosive or flammable. That could harm multiple people or even shutdown your business.

shed on fire

A hazardous substance could be harmful to the environment. And that kind of harm is not just bad for the earth and its inhabitants, but also very bad publicity.

If you don't comply with COSHH, these hazards could be waiting to strike at any time.

Not sure how to comply? Here are 9 ways to comply with COSHH.

If you need help with the COSHH regulations, our COSHH assessment templates are a good place to start. If you just need a simple layout to get you going, you can download our free blank COSHH assessment template.

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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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