Using chemicals or other hazardous substances at work can put people’s health at risk, so the law requires employers to control exposure to hazardous substances to prevent ill health. They have to protect both employees and others who may be exposed by complying with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) (as amended).
If you as an employer fail to adequately control hazardous substances, your employees or others may become ill. Effects from hazardous substances range from mild eye irritation to chronic lung disease or, on occasions, death. This may:
- Result in lost productivity to your business.
- Leave you liable to enforcement action, including prosecution under the COSHH Regulations.
- Result in civil claims from your employees.
There can be positive benefits to your business from carefully following through the requirements of COSHH:
- Improved productivity as a result of using more effective controls (e.g. less use of raw material).
- Improved employee morale.
- Better employee understanding and compliance with health and safety requirements.
Hazardous substances include:
- Substances used directly in work activities (e.g. adhesives, paints, cleaning agents).
- Substances generated during work activities (e.g. fumes from soldering and welding).
- Naturally occurring substances (e.g. grain dust);
- Biological agents such as bacteria and other micro-organisms.
Hazardous substances are found in nearly all working environments, for example: factories, shops, mines, farms, laboratories and offices.
Effects of COSHH hazardous substances
Examples of the effects of hazardous substances include:
- Skin irritation or dermatitis as a result of skin contact.
- Asthma as a result of developing allergy to substances used at work.
- Losing consciousness as a result of being overcome by toxic fumes.
- Cancer, which may appear long after the exposure to the chemical that caused it.
- Infection from bacteria and other micro-organisms (biological agents).
What COSHH requires
To comply with COSHH you need to follow these eight steps:
Step 1 – Assess the risks
Assess the risks to health from hazardous substances used in or created by your workplace activities.
Step 2 – Decide what precautions are needed
You must not carry out work which could expose your employees to hazardous substances without first considering the risks and the necessary precautions, and what else you need to do to comply with COSHH.
Step 3 – Prevent or adequately control exposure
You must prevent your employees being exposed to hazardous substances. Where preventing exposure is not reasonably practicable, then you must adequately control it. The advice in this leaflet, and in the other guidance it refers to, will help you to make correct assessments and to put the appropriate controls into place.
Step 4 – Ensure that control measures are used
Ensure that control measures are used and maintained properly and that safety procedures are followed.
Step 5 – Monitor the exposure
Monitor the exposure of employees to hazardous substances, if necessary.
Step 6 – Carry out appropriate
Carry out appropriate health surveillance where your assessment has shown this is necessary or where COSHH sets specific requirements.
Step 7 – Prepare plans and procedures to deal with accidents, incidents and emergencies
Prepare plans and procedures to deal with accidents, incidents and emergencies involving hazardous substances, where necessary.
Step 8 – Ensure employees are properly informed trained and supervised
You should provide your employees with suitable and sufficient information, instruction and training.