COSHH – The basics

What is COSHH?

COSHH is a law that is a requirement for employers to control substances that are hazardous to health. To prevent or reduce your employees exposure to hazardous substances you can do this by:

  • Find out what the health hazards are.
  • Deciding how to prevent harm to health (done by risk assessment).
  • Providing control measures to reduce harm to health.
  • Making sure they are used.
  • Keeping all control measures in good working order.
  • Providing information, instruction and training for employees.
  • Providing monitoring and health surveillance in appropriate cases.
  • Planning for emergencies.

Most businesses use substances or products that are a mixture of substances. Some of the processes also create substances which could cause harm to employees, contractors and other people.

Sometimes substances are easily recognised as harmful. Common substances such as paint, bleach or dust from natural materials may also be harmful.

What is a substance hazardous to health?

COSHH covers substances that are hazardous to health. Substances can come in many forms and include:

  • Chemicals
  • Products contacting chemicals
  • Fumes
  • Dusts
  • Vapours
  • Mists
  • Nanotechnology
  • Gases & asphyxiating gases

If the packaging has any hazard symbols then it is classed as a hazardous substance.

However COSHH does not cover lead, asbestos or radioactive substances.

What you need to do

Before you start producing a COSHH assessment

Think about:

  • What do you do that involves hazardous substances?
  • How can these cause harm?
  • How can you reduce the risk of harm occurring?

Always try to prevent exposure at source. For example:

  • Can you avoid using a hazardous substance or use a safer process – preventing exposure, eg using water-based rather than solvent-based products, applying by brush rather than spraying?
  • Can you substitute it for something safer – eg swap an irritant cleaning product for something milder, or using a vacuum cleaner rather than a brush?
  • Can you use a safer form, eg can you use a solid rather than liquid to avoid splashes or a waxy solid instead of a dry powder to avoid dust?

If you can’t prevent exposure, you need to control it adequately by applying the principles of good control practice.

Control is adequate when the risk of harm is ‘as low as is reasonably practicable’.

This means:

  • All control measures are in good working order.
  • Exposures are below the Workplace Exposure Limit, where one exists.
  • Exposure to substances that cause cancer, asthma or genetic damage is reduced to as low a level as possible.

What to do in an emergency

You will need to plan and practice to be able to cope with foreseeable accidents, incidents or emergencies. This means:

  • The right equipment to deal with the emergency (eg a spill), including protective equipment and decontamination products;
  • The right procedures to deal with a casualty;
  • The right people trained to take action;
  • The right arrangements to deal with the waste created.

Think about how you would make such information available to the emergency services.

Everybody that works for you needs to know and understand the emergency plans. Which involves safety representatives and employees.

Source: HSE