Buying Guide - What is COSHH?
COSHH Regulations Explained
Hazardous substances can take many forms and are common in just about every workplace. As the name implies The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 concern themselves with the measures you need to take to make working with such substances safe.
When deciding how COSHH regulations apply to you and your workplace you should consider whether any of the following are present while you work: Chemicals or products that contain them Mists Fumes and vapours Dust Gases Biological agents
All of these can be classed as substances that require some form of control in order to work with them safely. Simple everyday items such as cleaning products, glue or paint will therefore need to be considered as part of your COSHH provision. However this list is not exhaustive - to assess whether a product has COSHH implications for your business you should check any information that was provided with it, ask your supplier or look online.
Good COSHH procedures consist of several important steps, including those outlined below. By working through these and continuously monitoring their effectiveness you can efficiently control any risk.
Once you’ve ascertained whether a substance will require control measures you will need to look in further detail at how and why it is present and the possible ways this could affect workers’ safety. Consider also the tasks that are to be performed around the substance to determine the scale of the threat. Handling small amounts of chemicals in a can may well be assessed as having a low risk, however the cleaning or disposal of drums that contained the same substance might be decided to carry a greater risk of exposure and require tougher control measures.
Make a written record of your COSHH assessment and any measures you are taking to reduce risk. This is a legal requirement if you have five or more employees and good practice in any event.
Use the findings from your risk assessment to decide which control measures each task and substance will require. You might find that ultimately you can prevent the risk by eliminating the use of harmful materials entirely. Where this is not possible you should be seeking to adequately control the risk instead. Think about your operating processes and what equipment you might be able to use to make them safer. Specific items for carrying and storing containers such as drums or cylinders are a must. For smaller amounts of chemicals or flammable materials, spill-containing cupboards are extremely useful for safe storage. Having adequate waste disposal systems can prevent cross-contamination and industrial strength cleaning equipment such as vacuum cleaners will keep potentially harmful dust from gathering. Consider enclosing work areas and minimising the number of workers who come into contact with dangerous substances. Personal protective equipment (PPE) items such as gloves, facemasks and protective overalls are regularly used as part of COSHH provisions; however they should be regarded as a last resort and used only where the risk from a substance can’t be mitigated using alternative materials or working practices.
Monitoring & Surveillance
Once you have implemented any procedural changes and suitable equipment is in place it is extremely important to make regular checks to ensure processes are working as they should. These should be carried out by a competent person. Look for any uncontrolled contaminants and ensure workers have access to COSHH training in order to follow procedures correctly. For certain risk types it may be necessary to carry out health checks on relevant personnel from time to time.
When working with dangerous materials it’s important to be ready for anything. Use your risk assessment and information on the substances in question in combination with other factors such as your location to come up with an emergency response plan. Make sure equipment for cleaning spills is available as well as relevant first aid supplies, including any specialist items specific to the risk. Have technical information on substances readily accessible so it can be passed to emergency services quickly. Make sure alarms and communication systems are in place so that staff are alerted of any problems immediately and have adequate signage to aid in evacuation. Substances and storage furniture must be labelled using the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). Your incident plans should be checked regularly for suitability and adapted if required.
Q: How can I find out more about COSHH symbols and a particular substance?
A: If a substance you use is marked with one of the universally recognised GHS hazard symbols your supplier should also provide a safety data sheet which includes information regarding the specific risk and safe usage and storage. It will also advise on any emergency measures that are appropriate.
Q: I run a very small business, how can I be sure it’s COSHH compliant?
A: You may well find that even if you do work with hazardous materials your risk is deemed to be very low; however it is important to carry out an assessment to be sure. Although smaller businesses are not required to record this process it is a good idea to do so anyway. For more information on how COSHH Regulations affect small and medium enterprises, our helpful Legislation Watch
article offers further guidance.