Is it time you did a COSHH assessment?

The law uses the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations to define how businesses must control substances that could be hazardous to the health of employees, their colleagues, of the wider community. The regulations, in their latest form, have been in place since 2002, so a quick refresher is sure to be helpful. It may reveal that the measures you have in place are out of date. Products change constantly, as manufacturers making improvements to existing products and introduce new ones.

What substances are covered?
These come in many forms, and include chemicals, products containing chemicals, fumes, dust, vapours, mists, gases, biological agents (germs) and nanotechnology. Specifically not covered, because they have their own regulations, are lead, asbestos and radioactive substances.

I’m self-employed. Does this apply to me?
Certainly. If you have employees, it all applies to you. If you don’t, but take hazardous substances onto other people’s premises, it all applies to you except for monitoring and health surveillance.

Things to think about before doing a COSHH assessment
What do we do that involves hazardous chemicals?
What harm can these substances cause?
How can we reduce the risk of harm?

COSHH CabinetsAre we using the right chemicals in the right form?
The range of available products is always evolving, so just because a product was the right one ten years ago doesn’t mean it’s still the best option. Manufacturers may have developed less toxic options, or more controllable forms. For example:
Can we avoid using a hazardous substance?
Does a water-based option exist?
Could we brush it on, instead of spraying it?
Could we vacuum things clean, capturing dust, rather than using a brush?
Does the chemical come in a ‘safer’ form? (a solid rather than a liquid, for instance) Keep an eye on the trade press, or talk to others at trade fairs or exhibitions.

Do I have to provide Personal Protective Equipment?
Yes. Employers must provide it for all employees, and replace it when necessary. It must be worn when all other measures are inadequate to control exposure. Advice about what is suitable is available from suppliers, manufacturers or trade associations. You must also instruct employees about how it is to be worn to make sure it is fit for purpose. It’s best to make it as comfortable as possible to ensure employees are prepared to wear it.

Are there exposure limits?
About 500 substances, of the thousands in use in industry, are covered by very specific workplace exposure limits.

What are COSHH Data sheets?
These are information about the substances you use, and describe the hazards presented by the chemicals they refer to, as well as handling and storage recommendations. It’s important to note that a COSHH data sheet is not a risk assessment. The information on the sheet should be used as part of a risk assessment.

Do I need to tell employees about these chemicals?
Yes. All employees working with, or close to, chemicals covered by the regulations need to have the information. They have a right to know the hazards, exposure limits, result of monitoring, health surveillance, and what to do in an emergency. And if you change or add a chemical, they need to be told abut that too.

Where can I find out more?
The Health & Safety Executive is a superb source of information. Visit http://www.hse.gov.uk/coshh/index.htm and http://www.hse.gov.uk/coshh/essentials/index.htm