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What Is COSHH? Everything You Need To Know

6 November 2015

Bethan Stones headshot

Bethan Stones

Group Marketing Manager

What is COSHH?

We’re often asked the question ‘What is COSHH?’. So we’ve decided to create an article which aims to define COSHH in simple terms. We have supplied supporting information so that you have everything you need to know in order to run your operations safely, efficiently and profitably.

So, What Is COSHH?

The term COSHH stands for ‘Control of Substances Hazardous to Health’. Basically, it is the law that requires employers to control these substances. Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH, 2002) employers are required to either prevent, reduce or at the very least, control exposure to hazardous substances in order to prevent ill health to their workers.

The vast majority of organisations today use substances that could cause some type of harm or health effects to employees and contractors. Research suggests that almost a quarter of workers are exposed in some way whilst at work.

These hazardous substances can come in many different forms such as:

  • Chemicals
  • Nano-particles
  • Fumes
  • Dusts
  • Biological Agents
  • Vapours
  • Gases
  • Fibres

Every year, thousands of workers are made ill by hazardous substance. Lung disease, cancer and skin disease to name a few. These diseases cost millions of pounds each year to society, industry and of course the individuals affected.

By following the COSHH Regulations, a company can save money and be more effective by not having to replace trained workers, can improve production and can cut waste.  Ensuring workers remain healthy can also lead to healthy profits. Good health is good business.

The HSE Guide ‘Working With Substances Hazardous To Health’ outlines how you should assess the risk of your own substances and what control measures you should have in place to reduce employees exposure.

Exposure – Assess, Control, Review

Some examples of exposure can be found in dusty and/or fume-laden environments such as quarries, metal finishers and woodworking factories. Workers within these professions are at high risks of lung disease if not controlled effectively. Other illnesses such as dermatitis, asthma and even cancer are exposure risks in the construction, metal and wet working industries.

Many other products or substances used at work can be harmful, such as glue, ink, paint, lubricant, beauty products and detergent. Benzene in crude oil can even cause leukaemia. It is essential to remember however, that whilst most substances can harm health, when used properly, they almost never do.

Some substances may have other issues of concern, such as be flammable, for example solvent-based products can give off flammable vapour. Clouds of dust from everyday materials, such as flour or wood dust, can explode if ignited.

It is very important to look at each substance individually and evaluate in what ways they can be harmful? You can do this by:

  • Checking information that came with the product
  • Asking the supplier and/or trade association
  • Asking a qualified occupational hygiene consultant
  • Looking in the trade press for health and safety information

Then think about the task. If the substance is harmful, how might your employees or contractors be exposed? By breathing in any gases, mist, dust or fumes? Will it come into contact with their skin? Is there a chance it could be swallowed? Can it in any way come into contact with a person’s eyes?

Exposure By Inhalation

If inhaled, some substances can attack the nose, throat or lungs while others get into the body through the lungs and harm other parts of the body like the liver.

Exposure By Skin Contact

Some substances can damage a person’s skin, while others pass through it and damage other parts of the body. Skin can get contaminated by either direct contact with the substance, splashing, airborne dust or by contact with contaminated surfaces (including contact with contamination inside protective gloves).

Other Exposure Routes

People can also transfer chemicals from their hands to their mouths if hands are not washed after substances have been handled. This can be done via eating or smoking. Vapour, gas and dust can also has the potential to irritate the eye. Caustic fluid splashes have been known to damage a person’s eyesight permanently.

COSHH Regulations

To comply with regulations the employer must assess the risks to health arising from hazardous substances created by the work activity, and then decide what precautions are needed in order to prevent or adequately control exposure.

The regulations have a hierarchy of control measures which must be followed. If it is at all possible, the activity or process must be changed so that hazardous substances aren’t used or generated, or a safer alternative should be put into place.

If prevention is not reasonably practicable, exposure should then be controlled by methods such as ventilation or enclosure.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be the last control measure to be used and this is the last line of defence.

The employer must then make sure that all control measures are properly used and maintained. If necessary, Monitoring of Exposure and Health Surveillance must be provided.

Employees must always be properly informed, trained and supervised. Just having HSE safety data sheets on file is not sufficient to comply with COSHH requirements.

COSHH Assessment Procedures

To comply, you need to follow these eight steps, which we will be going into further detail about over the coming weeks via eight individual in depth articles:

Step 1 – Assess The Risks

Step 2 – Decide What Precautions Are Required

Step 3 – Prevent or Adequately Control Exposure

Step 4 – Ensure That Control Measures Are Used and Maintained

Step 5 – Monitor The Exposure

Step 6 – Carry Out Appropriate Health Surveillance

Step 7 – Prepare A Plan For Accidents and Emergencies

Step 8 – Ensure Employees Are Properly Informed, Trained and Supervised

Experts In COSHH Monitoring

Envirocare is a leading Occupational Hygiene and Health and Safety services provider with over 20 years of experience throughout the UK.

We offer comprehensive COSHH Air Monitoring to determine the levels of substances in the workplace and ensure the WEL value is not exceeded for the substances you use. We will also provide a detailed report on work practices and findings together with recommendations for remedial action and Risk Assessment advice to ensure compliance with the relevant Workplace Exposure Limits.

We hope that this article has helped answer the question ‘What Is COSHH?’ Call us on 01274 738668 or fill out our Envirocare Enquiry Form for any queries regarding COSHH or any of our other accredited Environmental and Occupational Hygiene services.