What You Need To Know About COSHH
COSHH – or the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health – is the legal requirement placed upon employers to ensure that hazardous substances are controlled.
It’s vital that workers are prevented from exposure, or that this exposure is reduced as far as is practicable, by finding out what the hazards are, how harm to health can be prevented through the use of a risk assessment, bringing in control measures and ensuring they’re used, providing information and training to staff, providing health surveillance where necessary, and planning for emergencies.
The COSHH legislation covers a wide range of substances that pose hazards to health, including chemicals, fumes, dusts, mists, vapours, gases, biological agents and nanotechnology. It doesn’t, however, cover lead, asbestos or radioactive substances.
Before a business can start a COSHH assessment, they need to think about their business operations and what they do that involves hazardous substances. Consider how they could possibly cause harm and how the risks of this can be reduced.
Bear in mind that hazards and risks aren’t limited to substances that come with the ‘hazardous’ label. Do a lap of your entire workplace and try to see what potential there is for exposure to hazardous substances. Also think about what tasks or jobs might result in exposure and write this down, also noting what control measures you’ve put in place.
Different industries will, of course, face different risks in this regard so it’s essential that you find out how COSHH affects you in your particular sector. The agriculture industry, for example, faces risks as a result of substances like pesticides, feed additives, exhaust fumes, toxic gases, diseases from animals, fertilisers, brake fluids and more.
The baking industry, meanwhile, faces risks from the likes of spices, citrus oils and flavour concentrates, flour dust, improver dusts, cleaning and disinfectant products, and so on. It’s possible that dermatitis may result from certain tasks as well.
The main objective of COSHH is to prevent or adequately control exposure to hazardous substances so as to prevent ill health. This can be achieved through the use of control equipment, controlling procedures and worker behaviour.
Changing how tasks are undertaken or reducing the number of staff members in the near vicinity can help you improve exposure control in the workplace.
Control equipment can include the likes of general ventilation, refuges, respiratory protective equipment, enclosure and local exhaust ventilation. And you can control the way of working by prioritising operating procedures, supervision and training. All control measures should be tested regularly to ensure that they’re working properly. Keep your records for at least five years so you can spot any trends and any changes in equipment deterioration.
As for worker behaviour, make sure that they wear any personal protective equipment as is required for the job in question, use control equipment, follow hygiene procedures and warn their supervisors if they think that there’s something wrong.
It might be that you’ve decided that now’s the perfect time for you to invest in the development of your workforce, or perhaps you yourself would like to feel more knowledgeable in this area. If this is the case, then a CIEH Level 2 COSHH training course could well be a good idea.
This is an essential course for anyone who is responsible for the control of substances hazardous to health. It’s suitable for all sectors and companies, but would benefit those in healthcare, cleaning, transport, utilities, manufacturing and offices the most.
Course content includes the different forms of hazardous substances, detecting hazards, occupational risks, effects of exposure, warning labels, emergency procedures, storing hazardous substances, personal protective equipment, safe systems of work, legal responsibilities, guidance notes and approved codes of practice.
Employers have to provide information about the hazards, risks and measures of control in place, as well as instruction and training on how to use their particular set of measures. Every employer has to carry out a risk assessment and those that have five or more members of staff must record any and all significant findings.
It’s important to ensure that assessments are revisited on a regular basis so you know that they’re kept up to date. The gap between your assessments will depend on the type of risk involved, the work and your judgement on the likelihood of any changes taking place.
Also make sure that the assessment is reviewed immediately if there’s any reason to think that the original review isn’t valid any more. Even if there isn’t any real change in the situation or circumstances, you still need to review your risks and so on regularly.
If you fail to do this, there’s a chance that gradual changes over a prolonged period will go unnoticed, which means that the assessment will likely become unsuitable and insufficient for the work in question.
Case studies of working with COSHH
You might not think that working in a bakery would be particularly hazardous but a recent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation showed that a 51-year-old maintenance fitter who had worked at a bakery for around 20 years had actually developed occupational asthma.
It was found that the man’s lung function improved on weekends and on holiday, and it was later found that he had a flour dust allergy.
And another company in Bristol was recently fined after workers were exposed to chemicals over a period of four years, which resulted in allergic contact dermatitis. One of the members of staff suffered four years of blistered, cracked and split skin because of his condition.