Initially, think of what’s most important

Brevity created by shortening formal names into shorthand versions using their initials holds a danger that the purpose behind them can be lost. Pausing to think about what lies behind the initials, and why it’s there, is a useful way to remind yourself of their importance. We use the COSHH Regulations to illustrate the point.

BBC, PPE, MOT, and BLT; the verbal shorthand of our language is everywhere. By and large we know what it means. Take the four sets of initials we started with. You don’t even have to think about them, since the abbreviated form has become the accepted norm.

But there can be a danger with these verbal short cuts that the reality gets lost through over-familiarity, which as we all know, breeds contempt.

Take COSHH, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (2002), to give them their full title.

The role of COSHH

The purpose of COSHH legislation is to allow the use of hazardous substances in the workplace, but to spell out rules for the way they are used and stored in order to protect employees and the environment from the harm they could potentially cause.

And with that in mind, we’d like to offer an alternative set of words to attach to the COSHH acronym: Come and See me Here in Hospital. Thinking of that provides a reminder of what might be necessary in the event of too casual an attitude being adopted to materials covered by the legislation. With that in mind, we’d like to sharpen the focus on the regulations, and the implication for your employees – in order to avoid you having to exercise the hospital option…

Who’s covered by COSHH regulations

It would be a mistake to think of this legislation as being about ‘industry’ in the traditional sense. The Regulations are plain: the people being protected are ‘workers’, and in this case that means all employees, no matter what their job role, as well as university students and schoolchildren. Equally, everyone is covered, including visitors and people on placements, for example. In short, there’s a requirement to protect everyone close to a hazardous substance.

What substances come under the scope of COSHH regulations?

Oddly, no specific substances are mentioned in the legislation, though some are specifically excluded*. This is an indication of just how broad-reaching the legislation is, since it applies to types of substances: Chemicals, or products they’re found in, along with fumes, dust, vapours, gases, and even bacteria, are all covered. Consequently, the actual substances people must be protected from are extremely numerous.

* Radioactive materials, asbestos, and lead are sufficiently noxious to have their own specific legislation, so aren’t covered by COSHH rules.

How to assess my workplace risks

You’ll need to do a formal COSHH assessment. Things to look out for vary between locations as well as by processes. The Health and Safety Executive offers a very helpful selection of sample assessments to guide you through the assessment relating to your own situation – or one very much like it. Advice is offered about how to remove things you can do without, or control access to things that must stay.

Be thorough. There’s no doubt a list of substances that need to stay will be highlighted 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.

Always Seek Knowledge

Tell me about COSHH cabinets

The substances covered by the COSHH Regulations will usually dictate the most appropriate storage solution. A range of COSHH Cabinets offered by the Safety Storage Centre is designed specifically with COSHH compliance in mind, but the web site also offers one of the largest range of haz-chem cabinets on the web, and one of those might serve your COSHH needs equally well.

Wherever you buy your COSHH cabinet from, you’ll need to look and 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 can be covered in this blog, including a wealth of industry-specific information and guidance, available on the HSE web site. If you’re unsure, then ask. Safety Storage Centre staff are knowledgeable and helpful.

The knowledge dimension

Earlier I spoke about familiarity breeding contempt. This is arguably more true anywhere else than in dealing with hazardous chemicals. Because people using them have done so safely for long periods of time there is a danger that they can become immune to the hazards they are handling. And yet the dangers inherent in the substances are never diminished. It is therefore vital for everyone to be trained not only to understand what those hazards are, but also that they have a responsibility to use and store the materials correctly.

Keep workers safe

And finally remember that time spent in making sure you comply with the letter as well as the spirit of the COSHH Regulations will keep workers safe, and there will be no need to spend time hospital visiting or dealing with HSE inquiries into accidents.

A gram of prevention is equal to a kilo of cure.