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COSHH cabinets: A brief history

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So what’s great about a COSHH cabinet? It’s almost 30 years since COSHH regulations were introduced, but there is still a misunderstanding about parts of the legislation, especially around the proper use of COSHH cabinets. Safety Storage Centre explains the essentials, and puts your knowledge to the test with a quick COSHH quiz.

Chemical storage has come a long way since the days of serried ranks of jars and bottles kept on open shelves like the ones in our picture, and with good reason. We are now much more aware of the possibility of harm that could be caused to ourselves and others by the chemicals we use in our everyday lives.

The need to recognise the potential hazards of everyday chemicals, and the way the risks from those hazards should be mitigated, was first formalised in law with the introduction of the COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) Regulations in 1988.  Part of these legal requirements is the way chemicals must properly be stored. This is where the COSHH cabinet comes in.

COSHH storage cabinets are specifically designed to keep potentially dangerous chemicals – ones identified in the regulations as corrosive, harmful, irritant, poisonous or toxic – out of harm’s way. Which, in one way or another, is almost everything we use on a near-daily basis, and even more potentially dangerous in schools or places where children or vulnerable adults live and work.

So what is special about a COSHH cabinet?

This question is the main purpose of this article. Here at Safety Storage Centre we sell a huge range of COSHH cabinets. Very often we get asked by customers to explain what is so special about a COSHH cabinet compared to an everyday metal cupboard.

Firstly, every COSHH cabinet is made to allow safe storage of products that fall under the scope of COSHH storage guidelines. This leads to a resulting cabinet which is lockable with sturdy construction. However, that alone isn’t enough to make it special.

The key elements of a good COSHH cabinet are for it to be leak-proof, and for it to have a sump at the bottom to collect chemicals that may accidentally be spilled. This is absolutely critical. Basic metal cupboards are unlikely to be constructed with such features in mind so if there is a spillage then the liquid is likely to run down to the bottom of the cupboard and out through any gaps.

Another key feature of a COSHH cabinet is that its shelves will tend to have a raised edge to help in spill control. It will also have warning stickers on its doors, which is a hugely important visual deterrent.

Understanding all of this makes it obvious why any ordinary cupboard, metal or otherwise, just won’t do. COSHH cabinets really are the superheroes of safe storage.

COSHH Cabinets

Picture: Debramillet | Dreamstime

COSHH cabinet: consider the weakest link

The weakest part of any COSHH cabinet will always be the people who use it. It’s therefore important that everyone on the premises where the cabinet is used understands that unless they are authorised to lock and unlock it they shouldn’t attempt to use it.

Anyone who is authorised, and has been entrusted with a key, must make sure that the COSHH cabinet is kept locked whenever its contents are not being used, and it should never be left unlocked and unattended.

It is also crucial to remember that materials stored inside must be stored in their original containers and must be clearly labelled. It is vital that if two items could potentially cause a chemical reaction if any spillages were to mix then these items should be stored away from each other in separate cabinets.

How to choose the right COSHH cabinet

There are numerous options when it comes to choosing a COSHH cabinet and you should ask yourself a series of questions:

  • What does my risk assessment say about the need for COSHH cabinets?
  • How much do I need to store?
  • Is there room for moving things around inside without knocking others over?
  • Am I likely to need more storage in the future?
  • Should I get one big cabinet for everything, or two or more smaller ones?
  • Can the cabinet be fixed in one place, or would having one on wheels for easy movement be more appropriate?

Bonus COSHH quiz…

We are experts in safe storage. If you have any questions, please get in touch with us and we will happily help. As an extra bonus, test your knowledge on COSHH and hazardous substances by trying our popular quiz… (Feel free to use it to test your employees, too.)

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