28 Aug 2022

An introduction to COSHH

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health

What is COSHH?

COSHH – Control of Substances Hazardous to Health – is a legal requirement that must be taken seriously by all employers. These regulations are put in place to ensure that workers are completely protected from harm when working with or around potentially dangerous substances or materials. If these regulations are ignored, either by an employer or employee, an unlimited fine can be imposed on the individual responsible. 

Why is COSHH important?

Alongside protecting the health and wellbeing of staff, following COSHH regulations is pivotal for preventing financial loss due to absenteeism and worker replacements. Therefore, by following these principles and running a tight ship, employers can ensure that their money is directed to the right place. Plus, a healthier and happier workforce will produce work of a greater standard – a prospect that benefits all involved. 

What is a hazardous substance?

A hazardous substance is a mixture or substance that is toxic, an irritant, or corrosive. This could include chemicals, gas, vapour, biological agents – such as bacteria and viruses – mists, dust and fumes – all potential risks that will need to be included in the assessment. 

These hazardous substances could cause bodily harm by: 

  • Coming into contact with skin or eyes 
  • Being inhaled 
  • Being ingested orally 
  • Entering the body through skin wounds

What is a COSHH risk assessment?

To determine whether there is risk of ill health where dangerous substances and materials are concerned, a competent person must perform a COSHH assessment – this health and safety document is a legal requirement. Where possible, employers must provide the means to navigate the workplace safely – such as ensuring that formal training sessions are available which highlight the importance of COSHH, whilst providing the appropriate safety equipment/PPE to reduce the risk of bodily harm. 

Virtually every business will come into contact with a hazardous substance at some point, so it’s vital that potential risks are acknowledged early on to prevent a potentially life threatening scenario. 

What should a COSHH risk assessment include?

The following are questions that should be asked during a COSHH assessment:

  • In which areas could there be a potential exposure to substances that might be hazardous to health? Could a less hazardous substance be used? 
  • Why might the substances be harmful to health? 
  • Who might be harmed and how? 
  • Which jobs or tasks might lead to exposure of substances that are hazardous to health? 
  • Could an alternative, safer work method be used instead?
  • Which controls should be put in place? For example, dust extraction or fume extraction

When should a COSHH risk assessment be reviewed?

As workplaces are continuously changing, the COSHH risk assessment will need to be reviewed and completed regularly, with adaptations made where necessary if any significant changes have taken place. It’s important to acknowledge that this assessment shouldn’t just be a one off; employers and employees alike should remain vigilant to ensure that everyone can work safely, without risk of ill health.

COSHH responsibilities for employees

Following the COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) Regulations of 2002, employee responsibilities include: 

  • Using control measures and facilities provided by the employer 
  • Return and store all equipment safely 
  • Ensure any defects or insufficiencies are reported immediately 
  • Wear and safely store PPE (personal protective equipment) provided 
  • Remove any PPE before eating or drinking that could cause contamination 
  • Make use of washing or showering facilities when necessary 
  • Maintain good personal hygiene
  • Comply with all instructions or training provided 

COSHH responsibilities for employers

Following COSHH regulations, employer responsibilities include: 

  • Implement appropriate control measures to protect against hazardous substances 
  • Prevent and control exposure to hazardous substances 
  • Ensure employees are provided with sufficient information and training 
  • Ensure employers have access to appropriate PPE equipment
  • Maintain control measures and ensure they’re kept clean where appropriate 
  • Draw up plans and procedures to ensure any accidents and emergencies caused by hazardous substances are dealt with efficiently 
  • Ensure that employees who are likely to come into contact with hazardous substances are under health surveillance 
  • Make sure that substances don’t exceed the Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) 
  • Ensure that a COSHH risk assessment is carried out regularly by a competent person 

Here at Airmatic, our team of fully qualified experts are here to help you and your employees remain protected from hazardous substances at all times. Thanks to our premium and bespoke environmental solutions – from high integrity ductwork to high-quality fabrication – we’ve enabled a variety of sectors to ensure a safe working environment. Get in touch with us today to find out more. 

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