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Health and Safety

Control of Hazardous Substances

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations are more commonly known as the 'COSHH Regulations'. They require the employer to assess the risks to health from the use of substances needed as part of a work activity e.g. cleaning agents, motor vehicle oil, hairdressing chemicals, or from substances arising from the work activity e.g. wood dust, fumes, hairdressing chemicals, used motor vehicle oil.

Why do I need to know about COSHH?

The effects from some substances are not immediately obvious e.g. exposure to wood dust in a timber cutting area can cause cancer of the respiratory passages that may become apparent after a number of years. Similarly, prolonged repeated exposure to cleaning agents may cause sensitization. This is where an employee develops an irreversible allergy to the substances used and may prevent them continuing with this job. A thorough COSHH assessment will help eliminate or reduce these effects.

How do I carry out a COSHH assessment?

You will be glad to hear that it isn't difficult. You can follow these steps:

Step 1

Carry out a survey of your premises and note down all the substances used and stored. Look at any processes being carried out and determine if another substance is produced as a by-product of the process.

Step 2

  • Look at the safety instructions on the container of each substance used or stored. If one of the following symbols appears on the container you will need to do a COSHH assessment;
  • Obtain the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) from the supplier or manufacturer and apply the information given to how the substance is used in your workplace (where and how it is used, stored and handled).
  • Find out if the substance has an occupational exposure limit (OEL) (HSE Guidance Booklet EH40 gives the official list of OEL's and is revised annually).
  • Specialist advice may need to be sought for activities that generate fumes to determine the amount produced (EH40 is again a useful information source).

Step 3

Identify who might be affected (e.g. employees, public, contractors) and how they are likely to be exposed (e.g. swallowing, breathing it in or absorption through the skin).

Step 4

Where exposure can be prevented, you should:

  • Change the process or activity so that the substance isn't used or produced
  • Replace the substance with a safer one
  • Use it in a safer form e.g. pellets, instead of powder

Step 5

If prevention is not practicable you should consider controlling exposure using a combination of the following:

  • Totally enclosing the process
  • Local/General Exhaust ventilation equipment
  • Using safe systems of work
  • Use of personal protective equipment (PPE)

Step 6

Ensure that the control measures remain effective by introducing a regular inspection, testing and maintenance system for plant and equipment (including any PPE)

Step 7

Determine if you need to monitor employee exposure and provide health and/or medical surveillance.

Step 8

Inform staff about the risks that they may be exposed to, how the risks are controlled and the precautions to be taken.

Step 9

Record your assessment, including the control measures introduced (unless the range of products and substances which might cause harm is very limited).

Example (49KB) Adobe Acrobat Format

A blank template in Appendix 4 (41KB) Adobe Acrobat Format is available to assist you in carrying out your own assessments.

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