COSHH cabinets: A brief history

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.)

Test yourself with our COSHH quiz

Take our COSHH quiz to see if you know everything you should about COSHH.

There can only be a tiny minority of people who have never heard the acronym COSHH. We all know what it stands for, and what we must do as a result. But do we? Is our knowledge as thorough as we might like?

Life as we live it in the 21st century is made possible by our mastery of thousands of chemicals in common use. Used correctly, they can add to the quality of life; used incorrectly, they can do exactly the opposite.

The biggest danger they pose comes not from the chemicals themselves, but from the way we use and store them. Those using these chemicals must be familiar with the correct use of COSHH Cabinets for safe COSHH storage. Familiarity with these products can allow sloppiness to creep into our attitudes to the way we use and store them.

Therefore, we’ve developed this simple COSHH quiz to let you discover how much you know, or thought you knew, about the risks you may deal with every day.

COSHH Questions and Answers (including a COSHH Symbols Quiz)

1. What does COSHH stand for?

A) Control of substances harmful to health;
B) Control of substances hazardous to health;
C) Control of substances hazardous to hands

2. Which of the following are not covered by COSHH regulations?

A) Germs;
B) Radioactive substances;
C) Fumes

3. What qualifications must you hold to do COSHH risk assessments?

A) IOSH;
B) NEBOSH;
C) None

4. A COSHH cabinet must always be secured to floor or wall. True or false?

5. COSHH regulations were first introduced into the UK in which year?

A) 1988;
B) 1998;
C) 2008

6. Significant findings from any COSHH risk assessments must always be recorded

A) for companies with 10 employees or more;
B) for companies with 5 employees or more;
C) for every company, regardless of the number of employees

7. If COSHH-controlled substances are present in a workplace, and dust may arise from them, good ventilation is necessary. How many complete changes of air per hour are recommended?

A) 1-3;
B) 3-5;
C) 5-10

8. Which of the following is NOT a requirement for a COSHH cabinet?

A) It must contain a series of drawers for small tins and bottles;
B) It must be constructed so as to be tamper-proof;
C) It must be lockable.

9. Any substance covered by COSHH can be stored in all COSHH cabinets. True or false?

10. Which of the following is COSHH NOT designed to protect?

A) Staff in hospitals;
B) Children in schools;
C) Workers in the offshore industry;
D) Vulnerable adults in care homes.

11. The illustration on this blog shows seven symbols associated with materials that might be associated with COSHH. What do they mean? (Score one point for each correct answer)

COSHH Quiz

 

 

 

 

 

 

12. If a COSHH cabinet is available, it is acceptable to use it for storing products in other than their original packaging, so long as the name of the contents is written on the alternative packaging in capital letters. True or false?

COSHH Quiz Answers

1 B;

2 B;

3 C;

4 False – mobile versions exist;

5 A;

6 B;

7 C;

8 A;

9. False. Flammable materials should be stored in fire-resistant COSHH cabinets;

10 None of the above. It is intended to protect all groups;

11) A = explosive; B = oxidising; C = corrosive; D = harmful to the environment; E = harmful; F = toxic; G = flammable;

12. False. Under no circumstances should products be stored in other than their original packaging.

How did you do in our COSHH Quiz?

Award yourself three points for each correct answer.

If you scored 40, you’re probably in a safety-related job. If you’re not, then you may have missed your vocation.

If you scored 30 or more, you’re probably careful at work, and understand both why COSHH is necessary and the consequences of ignoring it.

If you scored 18 or more, you probably need a refresher, and it would be advisable to speak to someone about ways to brush up your knowledge.

If you scored 9 or less, it’s a wonder you’re allowed out on your own, since you could well be putting not only your life at risk, but the lives of your colleagues too.

How to choose COSHH storage cabinets

COSHH storage is relatively simple once you are aware of the risks, and how important it is to protect people from them. Used in conjunction with the proper training and discipline, COSHH cabinets will protect the people in your business, no matter what it is, by keeping dangerous materials under control.

Our range of COSHH cabinets are of robust construction, and have a powder-coated finish as well as interiors designed to contain spills, should they occur. Specific detail about each of the products is available on its product page, but as a general word of advice we’d suggest you pick one that might appear to be larger than you need, to allow for business growth. However, don’t be tempted to use the space to buy more of the substances you intend to store than you actually need. Larger volumes usually translate into larger risks!

We are passionate about helping you and making your compliance obligations that little easier to manage. We would be keen to know how you did in our COSHH quiz so follow us on Twitter here and let us know how you got on!

What Grandma learned from Benjamin Franklin about safe storage

Familiarity can breed contempt when it comes to storing hazardous substances in the workplace. Doing it right requires not only the right equipment, but also the right understanding of the risks involved by everyone on the premises. Safety Storage Centre explains…

A place for everything, and everything in its place; that’s what Grandma always used to say. Well, mine did, at least. We tend to think of Grandmas as the fount of all wisdom, and so often they are, but in this instance she’d pinched the thought from that great 18th-century American innovator Benjamin Franklin.

It was a piece of wisdom Franklin needed; his life was busier than most. He was an author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, inventor, and diplomat. His life would have been chaos if he hadn’t been tidy!

Grandma was encouraging tidiness so her house didn’t look a mess – but it’s a trait that, on a serious note, helps us to keep modern workplaces safe.

‘Things’ in our lives are more numerous than they were in Franklin’s lifetime 300 years ago (and Grandma’s, much more recently). We have inventions neither of them could have imagined, and that includes the dangerous substances forming part of our everyday lives.

Storing hazardous substances safely

Because they’re so familiar, we can forget just how dangerous some of these substances are when they are mishandled or stored incorrectly. This is where we should recall the ‘place for everything’ thought, because part of preventing harm is the way, and the place, these substances are stored.

It starts with the immediate container for any substance, which should never be decanted into another container. We’ve all read the stories about children drinking from pop bottles in to which toxic liquids have been poured – and the horrible consequences. Original bottles and drums have all manner of important warning information on them, which should stay with the contents. That’s why the activity in our picture is wrong on so many levels. Storing drinking water in a petrol can is as foolhardy as storing fuel in a lemonade bottle, and should never be done.

Then where should these substances be kept?

Examination of the COSHH regulations is a good place to start. COSHH stands for Control of Substances Hazardous to Health, and is legislation enacted in 1988 and revised in 2002. COSHH essentials is a guide produced by the Health and Safety Executive, and includes information about safe practices for storing hazardous substances in all facilities, but especially where vulnerable people such as children the elderly and adults with learning difficulties could conceivably come into contact with them.

The counter to these dangers is the use of purpose-designed storage for hazardous substances in the workplace – COSHH cabinets

Hazardous Chemicals

What is a COSHH cabinet?

COSHH cabinets contain hazardous substances in the workplace in two ways. Firstly, they are robust and lockable, to prevent unauthorized people from getting at the chemicals inside, and secondly, their design includes spill containment to prevent the chemicals from getting out. Careful control of the keys ensures that only responsible people have access to the contents.

The cabinets are perfect for use in a multitude of diverse locations where storing hazardous substances in the workplace is unavoidable – think of the cleaning products needed in every school, for example.

Which COSHH cabinet?

Deciding on which COSHH cabinet – or indeed any kind of safe storage cabinet – is about what you need to store, and how much of them there are. The volumes of some substances, of course, are limited by rules and regulations that describe safe practices for storing hazardous substances.

More information about what you want to store is to be found in the HSE information mentioned above, the DSEAR 2002 regulations, or the HSG51 guidance about storage of flammable liquids. Look out for spill containment capability, and decide if the cabinet you need should be free-standing, wall mounted, or on wheels, capable of being taken to the location in which the substances inside are to be used. There are circumstances in which any of these would be the most appropriate.

What else do I need to do?

Substances sealed in their original containers pose little or no danger. It’s only when they are put in the wrong place or used in the wrong way that the danger levels increase, and that’s down to people.

Every individual’s behaviour can turn a safely stored substance into a hazard, so it’s important that everyone has some degree of training. At its most basic level it’s about awareness that the substances are there, and that they should be avoided. (In a school, for example, pupils just need to know that the caretaker’s cupboard is out of bounds and that they’re not allowed in).

Training will be more for people who need to work with the substances. They’ll need to know the correct method of handling them, what personal protective clothing must be worn, and where they must be used (in a fume cupboard, perhaps, or at least a well-ventilated space). They’ll also need to know where they can be stored, and with what other substances – if they’re allowed to be stored with anything else at all.

So it seems Ben Franklin and Grandma were right after all. Everything does have a place, and should be kept in it, for everyone’s safety.

The skull and crossbones marked a COSHH cabinet ahead of its time

Learn what the COSHH regulations are, what they mean to you, and how to protect people over whom you have a duty of care in the workplace by doing an accurate COSHH assessment. Safety Storage Centre illustrates products to help you, and advises on how to select the right ones.

COSHHIt is the skull and crossbones I remember the most. Roughly painted in black on the faded primrose yellow door, it haunted my early childhood, and I certainly never dreamed of opening the door to see what was inside.

The painting was on the door of a weary old kitchen cabinet in the garage round the corner at my friend’s house, where his dad did odd jobs, and where we were allowed to play on rainy days.

Plastic soldiers fought imaginary battles on that garage floor; Dinky toys were props in childhood driving games, and all were overlooked by the unseeing eyes in the badly-drawn skull.

Years later I found that the cabinet contained oils and greases; paint with lead in it, and a lot of other badly-labelled containers half-full of all manner of noxious materials that are probably no longer available. He’d been absolutely right to discourage us from looking inside.

My friend’s Dad was ahead of his time, I suppose, having invented the COSHH cabinet more than 30 years before introduction of the COSHH legislation that made it necessary. (I almost wrote that he’d unintentionally invented it, but the reverse was true. He had fully intended to keep our small boyish fingers away from things that could no doubt have done us a very great deal of harm).

What is COSHH?

COSHH stands for Control of Substances Hazardous to Health, and is the name of legislation, introduced to the UK in 2002, giving employers a responsibility to reduce or prevent workers’ exposure to hazardous substances.

Significantly, the definition of ‘workers’ in this context applies just as easily to students in universities and children in schools – and ‘workers’ also covers people in offices as well as those in overalls.

What substances are covered?

Let’s start with what’s not covered. Lead, asbestos and radioactive materials are dealt with under their own legislation, and therefore not covered by COSHH rules.

However, it still leaves a huge range of materials that are within the legislation’s scope. Chemicals, or products containing chemicals, fumes, dust, vapour, mists, gases, and biological agents (germs, to you and me), are all there.

It’s important to note that these are ‘types of things’, rather than specific items. That means the list of actual substances employers (or school and university staff) are required to protect people from, could be extensive indeed.

How do I know what risks are around me?

You’ll need to do a COSHH assessment, and the things you’ll need to look out for vary from location to location and process to process. The Health and Safety Executive have a very helpful selection of sample assessments that will guide you through the process for your own situation – or one very much like it – and show you how to remove things that you can do without, or control access to things that must stay. In terms of schools, it’s a bit obvious, and the warning ‘Keep away from children’ sums it up very well.

There will no doubt be a list of substances identified as hazardous in your COSHH assessment, and that means that the range of available protection, in the form of COSHH cabinets, comes in all shapes and sizes.

COSHH cabinets

Safety Storage Centre offers a large range of hazardous-chemical cabinets, and one of those might serve your COSHH needs – but we also offer a specifically designed range of COSHH cabinets.

Wherever you buy your COSHH cabinet from, you’ll need to ask yourself these questions, and factor the answers into your buying decision:

• Is it the right size for what I need to store?
• Does it comply with COSHH and DSEAR regulations?
• Does is have a sump to catch spills?
• Is it made from strong material, using robust construction methods?
• Can the contents be segregated?
• Should I have a keyed or combination lock?
• Does it need to be fixed, or mobile?
• Does it have a smoke detector? Do I need one?

There’s much more to the COSHH regulations than I can usefully cover in this blog. Nevertheless I trust it’s given you food for thought and if you’re not already familiar with the rules, it might spur you on to find out more on the Health & Safety Executive website.

After all, keeping people safe is part of your duty of care as an employer…

Choosing Hazardous substance storage cabinets

When you first look at the vast range of hazardous storage cabinets you may be forgiven for asking why so many and what’s the difference. On the face of it all the cabinets are COSHH compliant i.e they meet the basic requirements of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations so why not go for a basic COSHH cabinet rather than the substance specific options for flammables, pesticides and acid and alkali’s?

The first question to answer is what specific types and how much of these hazardous substances do you have to secure to comply with COSHH legislation. Secondly you need to be aware of the dangers of storing incompatible substances in the same cabinet. Acids do not go with alkali’s and flammables should be segregated from all other hazards. Aggressive and toxic chemicals such as systemic agricultural pesticides are a direct hazard to health and are subject to additional controls, some requiring licences to store and use. In extreme cases, particularly involving bio hazards specialist cabinets to BS EN14470-1 may be required.

The substance specific cabinets offer more protection and are not just different coloured versions of the same cabinet. Flammable storage cabinets have deep spill tray shelves and deep sumps with welded seams to prevent leakage. Rebated doors prevent accidental exposure to naked flames. An Acid and Alkali cabinet has similar features but are made from Zintec steel for added corrosion resistance. Pesticide Storage cabinets also feature additional louvred ventilation to prevent the build-up of toxic fumes and have galvanised steel rather than powder coated shelves. Of course all the cabinets have hazard specific corrosion resistant powder coated finish, quality key locking for access control and security and hazard specific warning labels.

For those storing hazardous substances on site the different colour coded finishes provide a further benefit in an emergency – particularly a fire emergency – as irrespective of the warning label the fire and rescue services can quickly identify at a distance the type and location of any hazardous materials present. Storing different types of hazardous substances in the same anonymous Cabinet is a hazard in itself so assess the risks carefully and make the right safety choices.

Heavy snowfall increases risk of flood and theft

The heavy snow forecast to affect the whole of the UK at some point this weekend is further bad news for those businesses and homeowners at risk of flood. Snow, despite its picturesque effect on the landscape is rain by another name so when it thaws it can only add to the flood risk on already waterlogged ground. Now is the time to take added precautions to safeguard valuable stock and valuables by placing them out of reach of potential flood waters.
This precaution is doubly true if your business uses hazardous chemicals. It is advisable to consider raising hazardous storage cabinets well off the ground on steel stands available to suit most standard COSHH cabinets. Leakage of toxic substances into the environment can have devastating effects and if you are sited in a high flood risk area the environment agency will look to you for proof that sensible precautions were in place should a leak occur.


Valuables can also be stored in the same way in high security storage cabinets placed on stands, or in waterproof security chests and safes depending on the value and quantity of goods to be stored.
Another consequence of the freezing temperature is a significant increase in vehicle thefts. Criminals literally tour the streets looking for vehicles that have been left unattended on driveways with the engine running to defrost the car or van. This presents a golden opportunity for thieves to either steal the vehicle itself or rifle the contents in seconds for any valuables, laptops, tools and equipment.
Commercial vans and lorries can be fitted with lockable heavy duty steel van boxes and cabinets that bolt to the chassis for storage of expensive tools and equipment but that does not prevent theft of the vehicle if the thief has the opportunity. One tip is to use one key to start the engine to defrost and then use the spare key to lock the doors until you are ready to start your journey.
With a little care you can avoid falling victim to the unforeseen risks that the onset of winter weather can present.

Safety Cabinets and COSHH Compliance

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002, requires employers to ensure any chemicals and dangerous substances used on the premises are stored and handled in a way that minimises the risks posed by those substances both to the environment and to those in contact with the substances

This is a pretty broad brush requirement when non-compliance can result in punitive fines or even incarceration. So how do you go about complying with COSHH? The answer, as in virtually all health and safety legislation today is Risk Assessment. You need to analyse your business to assess any risks arising from the storage and handling of any dangerous substances. Any identified risks to the people working on the premises, visitors or any potential negative impact on the environment- should then be actioned to minimise the risks identified.

In practice start the process by identifying what constitutes a dangerous substance. Any hazardous chemical should be supplied with a safety data sheet and the container should be marked with a hazard warning label. Typically hazardous substances are classed as toxic, corrosive, acid, alkali, explosive or flammable. If you see any of these labels but don’t have a related product safety data sheet contact your supplier.

The data sheet should detail any incompatible substances that may compound the risks if they are mixed so as a golden rule it is better to store in different COSHH or safety cabinets manufactured for that specific group of hazardous substances, Acids with Acids, toxics with toxics, and so on. Flammables are a special category and come under the DSEAR regulations but the same principles apply.

Within the actual workplace only store the minimum quantity of dangerous substances possible- for example enough for a days work. Store any bulk quantities in a separate designated secure area away from the workforce.

Any staff handling dangerous substances should be properly trained in their use and properly equipped with appropriate personal protective equipment. Needless to say in the aftermath of an accident you may need to prove this so keep up to date training and safety records.

If a substance is clearly toxic or otherwise dangerous if released into the environment take adequate precautions to prevent leaks and spills, for example by storing in cabinets with spill trays or sumps. Despite this precaution the risk of a spill is still possible so have spill containment products available to contain and remove spills before they leak into watercourses and drains or seep into land.

Risk assessment is about being honest with yourself when assessing the potential risks your business generates. Cutting safety corners may save money in the short term but may ultimately cost lives as well as your livelihood and quite possibly your actual liberty.

Sudoku – safety cupboards

Here is a special version of the popular Sudoku brainteaser that uses letters instead of numbers. The rules are the same, each row, column and 3×3 square box must contain each of the letters in the keyword exactly once.

We have filled in some of the grid to give you a start.

As you might expect from the safety storage specialists your keyword is “CUPBOARDS“.

Come back next week for the solution and a new puzzle!

Storage of Flammable Liquids

When dealing with liquids of a flammable nature, it is crucial to ensure that they are stored away correctly.

Not ensuring that flammable liquids are protected could result in a small controllable fire very quickly becoming a raging blaze.

By ensuring you have a flammable cabinet that adheres to COSHH regulations (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health), you can minimize the potential risk caused by fire.

There are a number of different types of cabinets suitable for storing flammable liquids, such as paint, away in.

Here are just a few:

Flammable Liquid Storage:
The most obvious choice. Specifically made to house flammable liquids, flammable liquid storage solutions are available in a number of varying sizes – meaning you can a cabinet that is an exact fit.

Paint and Ink Safety Cabinets:
These storage containers are specially made to keep paints and inks protected. Some will have doors that have to be manually closed, whilst others benefit from having a self-closing door system.

Drum Safety Cabinets:
Drum safety cabinets are much larger than the previously mentioned cabinets. Big enough to store drums filled with potentially dangerous chemicals, these cabinets are usually double-walled and manufactured from a much thicker gauge steel. A gap of one and a half inches of air space between the walls and the inclusion a fire baffle and cap ensures that no half-measures are taken as far as safety is concerned.

Don’t get stuck under the COSHH

Health and safety seems to get the blame for everything at the moment – health and safety workers are often portrayed as party-poopers or fun spoilers in the media.

These negative stories often spring from the increasing litigiousness of society: the health and safety rules criticised as “fun spoiling” are often precautions put in place to stop silly accidents, prevent harm and injury to, say, school children, and ensure the school is legally protected by doing all they could to prevent risk.

The underlying importance of meeting health and safety regulation cannot be overdone – it is imperative, especially if a business handles potentially hazardous materials, to take the necessary precautions to minimise those hazards.

The correct storage of potentially hazardous materials plays a large part in that.

The guidelines regulating this kind of storage come under the umbrella of COSHH legislation (control of substances hazardous to health).

Many industries will use potentially hazardous products as part of everyday work: from mechanics to school teachers, bakers to hairdressers.

COSHH affects many industries and, as the old adage goes, you can never be too careful when it comes to protecting your safety, and that of your employees.

Simply bunging hazardous materials into a cupboard – even if it has warning labels – will not suffice. Instead, it’s worth looking for a COSHH cabinet which meets proper regulations, such as HSG51 and DSEAR.